South Africa's battlefields mark the saga of our modern history. While there must have been many territorial disputes before 1652, most of South Africa's historic battlefields cover the period from when Dutch settlers first arrived to the end of the South African War in 1902.

Did you know?

Guerilla warfare was first used in South Africa, as were concentration camps.

South African history is a litany of conflicts and rivalries between the many groups that lived or had interests in the region. The most important historic battlefields, however, are from the time after the Dutch settlers arrived in 1652 to the end of the South African War (previously known as the Anglo-Boer War) in 1902.

When the Dutch traded with the local inhabitants, there were serious disputes that led to three KhoiKhoi-Dutch Wars around Cape Town between 1659 and 1677. The settlers' biggest problem, though, was protecting their sea route to the East. This they were able to do until 1795, when Britain first took occupation of the Cape after the Battle of Muizenberg.

The British handed back the Cape to the Dutch, but retook it in 1806 at the Battle of Blaauwberg. These, however, were minor in comparison to what was to come as the settlers expanded eastwards.

In the Eastern Cape there were nine Frontier Wars between 1779 and 1879, in which the Xhosa lost most of their lands. At about the same time, King Shaka of the Zulus was waging the Ndwandwe-Zulu War. He prevailed at Gqoki Hill and Mhlatuze River.

When the Boers arrived in the province they defeated Shaka's successor, Dingaan, at the Battle of Blood River in 1838. But soon they migrated inland after the arrival of the British.

The British fought the Zulu in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 with the most notable encounters at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, which are 2 of the most famous South African battles.

They then turned their attention to the Boers of the Transvaal in the first South African War, but withdrew after the setback at Majuba Hill in 1881. This would be reversed during the second South African War of 1899-1902, which added many more historical battlefields to the landscape.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Battlefields of South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)35 590 1576

Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal
Mobile: +27 (0)72 271 1766

The League of Researchers of South African Battlefields
Tel: +27 (0)12 355 6405

How to get here

The vast majority of South Africa's historic battlefields are found in KwaZulu-Natal, best accessed from Durban's King Shaka International Airport. There are, however, a number of important battle sites spread across South Africa's other provinces.

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