The summit of Majuba Hill was occupied by the British to outflank Boer positions during the first Anglo-Boer War. While the Battle of Majuba Hill has gone down in history as a great military blunder, this detracts from the brilliant Boer tactics that led to the humiliation of a then-superpower.

Did you know?

British Lieutenant Hector Macdonald was freed after capture by the Boers because of his bravery.

Majuba Hill near the town of Volksrust in KwaZulu-Natal is the site of one of the greatest blunders in British military history.

In 1877 Britain annexed the Transvaal republic, which led to the start of the first South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War and by the Boers as the War of Independence) on 16 December 1880. After a number of battles the combatants met at The Battle of Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881.

The British commander, Major-General Sir George Colley, had occupied the summit of the hill the previous day, presumably to outflank the Boer positions at Laing's Nek. Nearly half his men were from the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders.

Colley, who until then was highly regarded, took no artillery with him, nor did he ask his troops to dig in. While he assumed the Boers would disperse when they became aware of his position, they instead organised a storming party led by Nicolas Smit.

Smit, experiencing warfare for the first time, employed the fire and movement tactic to keep the British at bay while his three attack groups got into position. Just after midnight they reached the summit and engaged the enemy with tremendous fire while avoiding hand-to-hand combat.

In panic, the surviving British fell into disarray and fled down the hill, where many more were killed, injured or captured. They tried to mount a rearguard action but this had little impact on the outcome of the battle in the first South African War (formerly known as the Anglo-Boer War). Approximately 200 British troops were killed, but only two Boers were lost during the battle.

The Battle of Majuba Hill led to the British signing a truce on 6 March and a peace treaty two weeks later. In the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the British adopted 'remember Majuba!' as their battle-cry.

Today, the Majuba summit provides wonderful vistas over northern KwaZulu-Natal. From the south summit you can see Ingogo where the film Zulu was shot. And to the east is Charlestown where Mahatma Gandhi was forced from the train because of the colour of his skin.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Tourism KwaZulu-Natal
Tel: +27 (0)31 366 7500
Fax: +27 (0)31 305 6693
Email: info@zulu.org.za

How to get here

Majuba Hill is just outside Volksrust, on the N11 in southern Mpumalanga, about three hours drive from Johannesburg. It lies on the KwaZulu-Natal border and is also easily accessible from Durban.

Best time to visit

All year round, although winter evenings can be bitterly cold.

Around the area

Volksrust forms the northern gate of the Battlefields Route. Historical sites nearby are the Concentration Camp Monument, British graves and the prison where Ghandi was held. Also visit the wetlands around Wakkerstroom for some of the best birding in South Africa.

Tours to do

The Battlefields Tour in the Vryheid and Ladysmith region provides a good overview of the warring parties.

Get around

Self-drive is best if you want to fully explore the battlefields area.

Length of stay

Half a day will be sufficient to climb Majuba Hill.

What to pack

Comfortable walking shoes or boots for the climb.

Where to stay

There are a number of charming, reliable guesthouses in the region.