From Ncome / Bloedrivier to a New Future –

Khulumani associate, Dr Ben Khumalo-Seegelken, a theologian and teacher at the University of Oldenburg in Germany, travelled to Ncome / Blood River for the conference that took place there last weekend.

The conference entitled Courageous Conversations was held from 6 – 8 November 2013 at the Ncome Museum, between Dundee and Nquthu in KwaZulu-Natal to mark the 175th Commemoration of the Battle of Blood River/Ncome & a nation’s striving for reconciliation.

The battle that took place on or about 16 December 1838 involved Zulu people and Voortrekkers, and was the consequence of a protracted period of mistrust, conflict and antagonism towards each other. The meaning of the battle over the intervening years informed how different peoples made sense of their history. The purpose of this conference was to open a way for people to begin to find each other as fellow human beings with greater understanding and acceptance. The questions raised by the conference included:

  • In looking back at the Battle of Blood River/Ncome, what developments have taken place since 16 December 1838 in the way we have been commemorating the 16th of December as a nation and how far have we come in our quest for reconciliation and social cohesion?
  • What challenges do we face today – 175 years after the battle and on the eve of 20 years of democracy in the country?

Dr Ben Khumalo-Seegelken in his paper delivered at the conference highlighted that “A number of years after the military encounter at Ncome on 16 December 1838, the survivors on both sides – amabutho kaZulu [the regiments of the Zulu-Kingdom] and the Voortrekker-kommandos – and their families continued to remember the day in different ways.

In 1864 – some two and a half decades after iMpi yaseNcome, the survivors from the ranks of the Voortrekker-kommandos, their families and their descendants decided to widen the scope of their commemoration and saw to it that the date were remembered throughout their church. The Synod of the church, meeting in Pietermaritzburg resolved on October 3, 1864 that “Dingaan’s Dag”, 16 December be observed annually in the life and liturgy of the congregations within their area of influence and that an annual commemoration-service be convened by their Church at Ncome.

The following year, 1865, some 27 years after the iMpi yaseNcome, December 16 as “Dingaan’s Dag” was declared a public holiday in the “Transvaal” and subsequently at the time of Union in 1910, became adopted as a public holiday throughout the territory known today as South Africa.

Despite the relationship between uZulu and Boers being characterised by animosity over almost two centuries, there had also been multiple experiences of a confluence and congruence of interests accompanied by moments of interdependence and interconnectedness.

Some Lessons from Ncome/Blood River

Being mindful of the legacy of iMpi yaseNcome means for us today that it remains important to realise and accept that events can be known, remembered and commemorated in different ways by different people concurrently. Ncome, Bloedrivier, Blood River, eBhodriva, are designations for one and the same site by people from different backgrounds and from different ancestral lines of descent.

In moving forward, a site so embedded in these different memories of different people, can serve as a vital space for people to learn together as they live into a new future.

One possibility presently under consideration is for the site to host IHlambo likazwelonke (a National Cleansing and Reconciliation Ceremony) on 16 December 2014 at which people can together remember the stories of what brought them into conflict and confrontation and how that conflict can become transformed when the interests of all parties are taken into account.

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