DNA convenant

There were two widows in the Malan laager after the disastrous battle at Italeni: our 3rd great-grandmother Anna Maria Klopper-Malan, and her sister-in-law, Hercules Malan’s wife, Anna Maria Breedt-Malan. Our 6-year old (2ndgreat-grandmother) Helena Malan and her siblings, including little two-year old Hercules, had lost their father. Maybethese circumstances caused the two young siblings to grow quite close to each other, resulting in the unique familyfriendships we see in the late 1890’s between the Heystek kids and their Oom Hercules Malan.


The Trekker minister, Erasmus Smit wrote about the disastrous news about Italeni in his diary on April 13, “On rising I went, when it was still dark, outside the camp in my prayer to God. My heart was so depressed, and I could not find words... Only broken words and sigh upon sigh. Oh God! Help! Help! Help! Even now protect, preserve our camps; do not desert us but save and relieve us, for Your Name, for the will of Christ.” On April 23, Erasmus Smit wrote again about our 2x great-grandfather Daniel Elardus Erasmus and his uncle Stephanus, “We had our evening service in the tent of the leader, Stefanus Erasmus, who has ridden to the camp of Potgieter to persuade him not to move away from us. In the morning… Daniel Erasmus rode on horseback with our letters in the direction of the borders (of the Colony) to Oberholzer and Pieter Jacobs to bring other emigrants on the road to us in order to strengthen and to augment our forces against the enemy Dingaan.” It seems Stephanus was a peacemaker, although Potgieter would not be persuaded to stay.


In Port Natal Dingane’s impis had ransacked the town for nine days after the Battles of Italeni and Tugela. Starting on April 23, 1838, their attacks had forced the English settlers to flee en masse aboard the brig, Comet. The Zulus finally withdrew from the town on May the 3rd. A few Trekkers, led by Karel Landman, soon occupied the port and established a handful of laagers in the area. The English trader, Alexander Biggar, who had lost his two sons in the Bloukrans massacre and at the Tugela battle, was one of the very few traders to come back to Port Natal to see what was left of his house. He was now appointed Landdrost (magistrate) by Landman, effectively becoming part of the Trekker government. Meal, wine, rice and salt found in the ransacked shops, and fish caught in the bay were soon distributed among the Trekkers now encamped in four larger laagers along the Bushmen’s River. They still had to survive through the winter of 1838, though. Food and ammunition were scarce, Zulu attacks an everyday fear. Their livestock had to be kept close, with little fresh grazing to be had. Zulu spies were sighted often, and a few caught every now and then, heightening their fears of another attack. The help of new emigrants was desperately needed.


Monday August 13 brought a much-feared large-scale Zulu attack on the laager at Gatsrand (near today’s Estcourt) where our Erasmus family was encamped along with the Retief/Greyling families, as well as Rev. Erasmus Smit. Since the Malans had joined the Retief group after the Bloukrans massacres, I assume they were part of this encampment at Gatsrand as well. The attack by 10,000 impis was led by the Zulu general Ndlela kaSompisi, who had been trained as a warrior by Shaka and was now the prime minister and chief advisor to Dingane. Some impis were riding stolen Trekker horses and had Trekker muskets that they, fortunately, fired from too far away. Through three days and nights of repeated attack with assegais set ablaze to try and burn the laager down, even setting the grass in front of the wagons on fire, the impis could not get close enough to succeed in their attack. Smit wrote in his diary that when someone translated the impis’ shouted threats about the coming night’s attacks, “We brought this boasting and jeering language in prayer before God, and remained trusting in the Lord.” Ever the intercessor for his people, Smit prayed day and night with Psalm 91, writing afterwards that the Zulu “dare not risk attacking the camp because our God restrained them…” Even with the surrounding grass on fire, no attack came. Smit concluded, “God’s protection was over the camp.” 200 Zulu were found dead around the camp on the morning of Wednesday the 15th. One Trekker and one Khoi servant who were outside the laager at the time of the attack, had been killed. The Trekkers renamed Gatsrand “Veglaager” (“Fight Laager”.) Yet again the Trekkers suffered a horrendous loss of livestock. As for Ndlela: he and his impis would next meet up with the Trekkers in December 1838 at a hippo pool in the Ncome River.


On September 23, in Sooilaager, Trekker leader Gerrit Maritz died of “dropsy”, which most likely was oedema, indicating he could have suffered a heart attack. Erasmus Smit had to be carried across a swollen river to conduct the funeral. Around this same time Andries Pretorius left the Cape Colony en route to Natal with 38 families.


During these months the Trekkers had managed to secure a road to Port Natal where Karel Landman and his families were encamped. In October a ship arrived from the Cape, laden with supplies for the Trekkers. They also laid out a new settlement on the Umsindusi River and named it Pietermaritzburg, after their two dead leaders, Pieter Retief and Gerrit Maritz. This was to become the capital of the Voortrekkers’ Republic of Natalia for a few short years.



On November 22 the Pretorius trek arrived in Sooilaager, accompanied by a cannon on a crudely-built carriage on wheels. He was immediately appointed as Commandant General, and took over all the Trekker administration. Pretorius’ first priority was to complete the punitive expeditions against the Zulus, bringing and end to the attacks and securing the land they had bought. On November 28 Pretorius rode out of Sooilager with a contingent of about 470 men, including Karel Landman's men from Port Natal. Sixty servants went along to take care of livestock in the laagers and help load muskets. Sixty wagons carried all the supplies and ammunition. They also had three small muzzle-loading canons including the one we know as “ou Grietjie”. The English settler, Alexander Biggar, joined the men with his Port Natal Volunteers of over a hundred Zulus. Pretorius established strict military discipline and created six divisions under the leadership of  commandant Stephanus Erasmus and five others. Stephanus’ brother, our 3rd great-grandfather, Lourens Erasmus was one of four “laager commandants”. The rest of the men included 2nd great-grandfather Daniel Elardus, as well as four Malan men: David Daniel and Jacob Jacobus, sons of Hercules Malan who had been murdered by Dingane; Daniel Jacobus Johannes, son of our 3rd great-grandfather Jacobus Malan who fell at the Battle of Italeni (Helena's half-brother); and a Stephanus Malan, possibly Jacobus and Hercules' brother.

Near modern-day Ladysmith the commando enjoyed the hospitality of a friendly Zulu chief who entertained them with a display of dancing. Of course the Trekkers named the place "Danskraal". It was apparently here that Sarel Cilliers, the spiritual leader who accompanied the commando, led the men in committing themselves to God in a Covenant on December the 9th. (I love the picture of hospitality and friendship, happy dancing, and an appeal to heaven all in one!) The Trekkers vowed that, if He would give them victory over Dingane’s Zulu army, they would commit themselves, their children and their “children’s children” to remember Him in a Day of Thanksgiving each year on that calendar day. This is of course where the first “Dingaansdag”, later changed into the “Day of the Covenant”, and now the “Day of Reconciliation”, held on December 16 each year, comes from. The Trekkers would also build a church in His honor. Alexander Biggar and other Englishmen in his entourage committed themselves to this Covenant as well, although a couple of Trekkers refused to do so, fearing God’s judgment on their descendants should they break such a solemn vow.


Strategically the blunder at the Battle of Italeni and the victory of Veglaager may have helped Pretorius in deciding on his strategy for the upcoming battle, which is why, on December 14, he chose a perfect field of defense of his own standing, fighting from inside the protection of his laager and drawing the Zulu general to him rather than being enticed back into the narrow Italeni gorge. The lay of the land gave Pretorius protection on two sides of his laager, forcing the Zulu army into concentrated attack points where Trekker weaponry was at its deadliest, as shown in this diagram and illustration of the Ncome River with its hippo pool and deep donga. Sarel Cilliers wrote about this place, “I must particularly mention how the Lord, in his watchfulness over us, brought us to the place where he had ordained the battle to be fought.”


On December 15, Pretorius rode out with a patrol to make contact with the main Zulu army. In the Nqutu valley they saw about 15,000 impis. Upon sighting the trekkers, the impis fell back, attempting to draw the Trekkers into the same trap that they had laid for Uys and Potgieter in April. Sarel Cilliers was apparently just as ready to fight, but Pretorius told him, “Do not let us go to them, let them come to us.” Cilliers wrote later, “Afterwards I saw that it was for the best that we had done nothing that day… for the Lord hath said My counsel shall remain. I will fulfill My desires” – quoting a couple of Bible scriptures to himself. Pretorius drew back to his laager. The Zulu army, led by Generals Ndlela kaSompisi and Dambuza Nzobo, followed him to the Ncome battleground throughout that night. However, a heavy mist curtailed the movement of the Zulu army, so that by that Sunday morning of December the 16th, a mere 5,000 impis had crossed the Ncome River in readiness to attack. The Trekker men feared that this mist would render their gun powder useless, but with sunrise the mist dried up completely, their powder had stayed amazingly dry.


Many stories about this mist and the day’s battle have been written. Pretorius’ letter to the President of the Council at the Trekkers’ camps stated that, “…the Zulus had…encircled our camp with their thousands while I was not yet intending to attack them (on account of the Sabbath), that we then had to defend ourselves fiercely as they also fiercely…stormed the camp in several attacks, but it pleased the Allhighest (on Whom we called) to give them into our hands.” During the final charge and hand-to-hand combat, three men were wounded, including the 39-year old Andries Pretorius who was stabbed in his hand with an assegai, but none of the Trekkers died that day. Some 3,000 Zulu had perished, according to the Trekker estimates. The surviving Zulu army fled. They say that the Ncome River turned red with the blood of Zulu impis, hence the name Bloedrivier. 


The details of the military strategies of both the Zulu, who at this stage were the mightiest African army on the southern continent, and these simple Dutch farmer-emigrants in this battle are too much for me to summarize succinctly. Here are a couple of links if you would like to read more about it: http://www.voortrekkerhistory. co.za/blood_river_great_trek… and https://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartb…/…/ransford/chap9.htm. Links to other stories, according to those who lived through it or spoke to some of the surviving impis long afterwards, can be found in the resources.



Also on this Sunday of December 16, 1838, unbeknownst to the Trekkers in the interior, one hundred “Red Jackets” landed at Port Natal to annex the area for their British Empire and build a fortification. The new Cape Colony governor, Sir Benjamin D’Urban, had decided that neither “barbarous nation” - Zulu, or British Settler, or “emigrant farmers” had any right to Port Natal. They were merely “unauthorized intruders on the soil” which rightfully belongs to the Crown of Great Britain. The Trekker government at Pietermaritzburg had, in fact, a mere handful of years left in Natal. In the days following the Battle of Blood River the Trekkers pursued the fleeing Zulu, intending to take Dingane’s capital city of Umgungundhlovu and recapture their stolen cattle. On the banks of the White Umfolozi River they encountered hundreds of their enemy. Yet again some Trekkers, this time under the more inexperienced Karel Landman who did not fight at Italeni, now followed a few Zulus into a ravine, where six Trekkers died in the ensuing battle, including the English settler Alexander Biggar whose two sons had died at Bloukrans and Italeni. Seventy of the Zulus in Biggar’s Natal Volunteer Army died with him. (The Trekkers later named Biggarsberg in Natal in honor of Alexander Biggar.)


Arriving at Umgungundhlovu at the end of December, Pretorius and his men found that Dingane had fled with all his people and most of the cattle, burning the city to the ground. On the hill of KwaMatiwane they found the skeletons of their murdered comrades, Piet Retief and his son, and Retief’s band of men—including Mattheus Pieter Taute and our 3x great-uncle Hercules Phillipus Malan. The treaty between Dingane and Retief was found intact in a leather “hunting wallet” on Retief’s body. Cilliers wrote in his diary about the implements of the cruel torture that Retief's men died under, still being visible in their bodies (they had been impaled and then clubbed to death.) After the contingent had arrived back at the Sooilaager camp on the 6th of January, Pretorius visited Erasmus Smit to show him the treaty. Erasmus asked “for an authentic copy in order to enter it [in his diary], but could not obtain it” that day. He testified, however, at having seen and read it. Handwritten copies were soon made, these still exist. Apparently the original document went missing during the Second Anglo Boer War, when it was sent to the Netherlands for safekeeping in about 1900.





https://www.geni.com/projects/Battle-of-Blood-River-Slag-van-Bloedrivier/2621 - List of names.

https://www.wikitree.com/photo.php/2/24/Erasmus-843.pdf : Lewensverhaal van Pionierboer en Voortrekker Lourens Abraham Erasmus,

N.A. Coetzee en E.M. Erasmus. If you have N.A. Coetzee’s book on Jan Heystek, this is his writing about the Erasmus family.

http://www.benkhumalo-seegelken.de/suedafrika-texte/717-wolfram-kistner-the-16th-of-december-in-south-africa/ - Thoughts on the Day of the Covenant.

http://www.labuschagne.info/the-miracle-of-blood-river.htm#.WjRrESPMyRs - Uncle Gert de Jager Blood River witness stories

Google books: Zulu Conquered: The March of the Red Soldiers, 1822-1888, Ron Lock

Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars, John Laband



http://www.battlefieldsroute.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Battlefields-Route-eBrochure.pdf Battlefields map: all the light blue markers are Voortrekker sites.

“Port Natal” is the city of Durban.

For maps of the Voortrekker and Zulu movements see http://samilitaryhistory.org/misc/bldrvr.html