The American Interest

A Vanishing Nation

Uit die blou van onse hemel
uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
waar die kranse antwoord gee.

When in 1918 Cornelis Jacobus Langen­hoven wrote “Die Stem” (“The Voice”), the poem that became South Africa’s pre-1995 national anthem, by “our everlasting mountains” he meant the Drakensberg range that separates Transvaal from Natal.  Blaukraans, in its southwestern foothills, was the site of a massacre of 500 Boer pioneers, mostly women and children, by Dingane’s Zulus in 1838.  On December 16 of that year, a 470-strong force under Andries Pretorius, sent to help the settlers, withstood a sustained attack by some 12,000 Zulu warriors, killing a third of them and securing the trekkers’ survival.

The Battle of Blood River, as the encounter came to be known, was officially celebrated during the Afrikaner Nationalist rule (1948-94) as the Day of the Covenant, a seminal event in the history of the nascent Boer nation.  On the morning of the battle, the Voortrekkers made a pledge to God

that if His protection shall be with us and He give our enemy into our hand so that we might be victorious over him, that this day and this date every year shall be . . . a day of thanksgiving . . . and that we shall erect a temple to His honor wherever...

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