2 February 2007
South Africans from across the spectrum were united this week in their praise for internationally renowned KwaZulu-Natal battlefields historian David Rattray, who was murdered in his family home above Fugitives’ Drift last weekend.
On Thursday, more than 1 000 people attended Rattray’s funeral at Michaelhouse school in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, where his eldest son matriculated in 2003, and his two younger sons are currently studying.
On the same day, news broke that two suspects in the murder – apparently committed during a robbery attempt – had been arrested by the police and were due to appear in court on Friday.
‘Bard of the battlefield’
The world authority on the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and a personal friend of Britain’s Prince Charles, the 49-year-old pioneer of “raconteur tourism” drew thousands of people from around the world to the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, where he brought the old battles to vivid life with passionate accounts peppered with immaculate Zulu.
“To listen to David Rattray narrate the story of Isandlwana was akin to watching the best-scripted, best-directed and best-produced movie Hollywood’s finest studios could put out,” wrote Sunday Times columnist Mondli Makhanya.
According to Makhanya, Rattray’s Isandlwana stories, delivered from the top of a hill overlooking the site of the battle and interspersed with war commands in Zulu and English, lasted for hours, at the end of which his listener “wished he could hit the replay button.”
‘Deep love for the Zulu people’
Rattray had a deep love for South Africa’s Zulu people, their history and culture, and also worked tirelessly in the community in which he lived. According to the Sunday Times, he was a trustee of the Siyazisiza Trust, the largest NGO of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal, which helps poor people produce craft items and vegetables.
“South Africa has definitely lost one of its great sons,” businessman Johan Rupert told the South African Press Association (Sapa). “He gave his life to promoting Zulu culture.”
Saki Macozoma, also a leading SA businessman and member of the African National Congress’ national executive committee, told Sapa that Rattray had “restored the dignity of the Zulu people and their history, and held people spellbound with his intimate knowledge of the Anglo-Zulu war.”
KwaZulu Natal Premier Sbusiso Ndebele, speaking at Thursday’s funeral, said the Zulu Kingdom brand was now internationally recognised as a result of Rattray’s selfless and tireless work.
“In his journey Mr Rattray tapped into the collective wisdom of the ages among all our people,” Ndebele said. “It was rare to meet a man like him.”
‘He was a reconciler’
Michaelhouse chaplain Alan Smedley, who led the funeral service, told Daily News that Rattray had an incredible grasp of the history of human conflict.
“He was a reconciler,” Smedley said. “I think this was part of his real life’s work, he used to use the platform afforded him by the Anglo Zulu War to encourage reconciliation between peoples.
“I was fascinated by the fact that whenever he told his stories of the past, he would never cast blame, but would instead seek reasons why people acted in the way they did – it was a very sensitive and unusual attribute.”
The key question of his sermon on Thursday, Smedley told the Daily News, was “what would David want us to do in response to his death?
“I’m quite sure David would want us to continue to build on his dream of a united rainbow South Africa, to continue to build on his dream that Fugitive’s Drift Lodge would be a place where people could come and be inspired to see the bigger human picture and to strive for peace.
“He would want us to continue to share his unshakeable faith in the enormous human capacity for good and not to allow acts of evil to hijack us from the task of creating a new South Africa which was free of injustice and violence and pain and human suffering.”
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