Skirmish at Giants Castle


Langalibalele was the king of the amaHlubi. The amHlubi were a Nguni tribe who settled in the area just to the west of Utrecht and in the North-Western region of KwaZulu-Natal. This era was in the 1650s. He lived from 1814 to 1889.
There were various attempts to assassinate Langalibalele; also, he refused to submit to the authority of King Mpande of the Zulu. He thus fled to the area in the vicinity of Estcourt and the Buffalo River in 1849. Martin West, the Governor of the colony of Natal, granted land in that area for the tribe to settle.

The discovery of diamonds in the British Colony of Griqualand West attracted a large number of labourers at this time. Numerous young amaHlubi became workers on the mines, and some were paid in firearms instead of in cash. This form of payment was a legal practice in this colony. The Hlubi workers thus routinely took these firearms back to their homes in the Natal Colony.

In 1873, John Macfarlane, the Estcourt magistrate, requested that Langalibalele turn in his kin’s firearms for registration. As Langlibalele did not know who owned guns, he would not authorize this request. This led to the issuing of a warrant for his arrest.

The skirmish

Then, Langalibalele and his kin made arrangements to escape to Basutoland (present-day Lesotho) using the Bushmans River Pass. The Colonial government proposed a three-pronged police attack with military support to capture Langalibalele The arrangement was for Captain Allison to cross the Drakensberg through the Champagne Castle Pass Captain Barter was to cross the Drakensberg using the Giants Castle Pass. At the same time, different forces would move toward Langalibalele’s domain from the east. The attack was planned for Monday 3 November 1873. The total contingent comprised 200 British soldiers, 300 Natal Volunteers and around 6000 African troops.

Durnford went with Barter toward the south of Giants Castle; they unexpectedly came across the amaHlubi tribesmen. A skirmish ensued in which Durnford lost five men. They retreated as a result. This battle site is located close to Main Cave and the Giants Castle Camp in the Central Drakensberg.


The aftermath

On 11 November military law was pronounced in the Natal settlement, and two flying sections, one under
Allison was sent to scan for Langalibalele in Basutoland. They entered the protectorate through the Orange Free State. The Chief of Basuto, Molapo, subsequently handed over Langalibalele and five of his children on 13 December, to the colonial force.

Langalibalele was then tried at the beginning of 1874, found guilty and imprisoned on Robben Island. Bishop
Colenso took on reports of his mistreatment on this island. Questions were also raised about the reasonableness of his trial and whether Langalibalele expected to revolt.