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Elandskraal Pass (P194)

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Zulu Memorial at Isandlwane Zulu Memorial at Isandlwane - Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Elandskraal Pass is named after the tiny village on the eastern side. The settlement was established in the late 19th century, and its most prominent feature is the beautiful stone Lutheran Church, built in the 1920s. Funds to build the church were raised by organising a bazaar; this was so successful that a surplus was sent to Germany to look after children orphaned by the Great War (the 1st World War). The village and the pass are located quite close to the Anglo-Zulu battlefields of Rorke’s Drift, Fugitive’s Drift and Isandlwana. The road is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, but beware of the local drivers, who seem to view the traverse as their personal racetrack. All of the other hazards associated with rural South Africa also apply.

 

 

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[Video cover photo - Mike Leicester]

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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

 

Digging into the details:

Getting there: To approach from the west, start off from the intersection of the P194 and the R33 between Dundee and Pomeroy at GPS coordinates S28.484278 E30.417438. Travel in an easterly direction along the P194 for exactly 6 km to S28.469296 E30.471649, which is the western start point. To approach from the east, start off near Rorke’s Drift at GPS coordinates S28.352802 E30.530692. Travel in a westerly direction along the P190 for 17.4 km to S28.480502 E30.532118. There is a T-Junction here; turn right, and the pass begins immediately from this point. 

Lutheran church, ElandskraalElandskraal - Lutheran Church / Photo: Mike Leicester

We have filmed the pass from east to west, in the ascending mode. The pass begins at the intersection of the P190 and the P194, near the Elandskraal Store and the Elandsheim Resort. The road passes through an avenue of tall trees for the first 200 metres, then the Lutheran Church comes into view on the right-hand side, which is quite an unexpected sight in this small village. A sturdy fence surrounds the church grounds, and a few antelope can be seen grazing inside the complex.  

The gradient now increases, and the road begins to wind its way up the mountain. The road surface is good, but covered with a fine grey cinder at this point, so be careful when passing other vehicles; the dust can be extremely abrasive. Views to the left and right open up as the vegetation becomes more sparse, consisting mainly of small trees and grasslands, interspersed with rocks. There are a total of 21 corners, bends and curves through this first section.  

SunsetSunset at Elandskraal / Photo: BookingDotCom

At the 3.0 km mark a small village is reached, and the road curves to the right through a shallow hairpin of 120 degrees, taking the heading directly into the north. Beware of livestock and other domestic animals in the road at this point. The gradient flattens out a little and the road meanders slightly along a straight of 1.1 km. A good view over the valley to your left is presented through this section. A rural primary school appears on the right-hand side, and an intersection which leads off to a mission station comes up on the left. 

The gradient increases once more as the road begins another climb up the slopes of the Elandsberg. At the 4.3 km mark, the road bends through 90 degrees to the left, and the heading changes back towards the west. A series of consecutive left and right corners take you ever upward, the altitude that you have gained at this point being very obvious if you look over into the valley on the left-hand side. Towards the top of the slope, the vegetation increases in density, and tall trees line the road once more. 

prime dairy farming areaThere are several farms leading off the pass / Photo: L.Geffen

Still climbing, but at a very slight gradient, the road continues past open pastures as the terrain now becomes more conducive to livestock farming. The road remains fairly straight with only a few shallow corners, then finally bends to the left through a gentle curve and the pass comes to an end at the 7.9 km mark, adjacent to a farmhouse on the right-hand side surrounded by tall pine trees.

Eleven days before the historic Battle of Isandlwana, the British High Commissioner in South Africa at the time, Sir Bartle Frere, had launched an invasion of Zululand after the expiration of his impossible ultimatum to the Zulu King Cetshwayo. Frere was trying to establish a confederation of white-led states in southern Africa, but the Zulu stood firmly in the path of his ambitions.  

Under the command of Major-General Lord Chelmsford, three columns were sent to converge on the Zulu royal camp at Ulundi. The coastal column was commanded by Colonel Charles Pearson, the central column by Colonel Richard Glyn, and the third by Colonel Evelyn Wood. In addition, Brevet Colonel Anthony Durnford and Colonel Hugh Rowlands each commanded an additional reserve force. 

British gun batteryBritish field gun team at Isandlwana / Photo: British Battles

General Chelmsford accompanied the central column, thereby effectively overriding the command of Colonel Glyn. Their first action took place when they attacked the settlement of Chief Sihayo, after which they advanced to a site below a sphinx-shaped hill known as Isandlwana, where they established a camp. As they considered it temporary and unlikely to suffer an attack, they undertook no entrenchments.  

At dawn on the 21st of January 1879 Major John Dartnell led a party of about 150 men on a reconnaissance mission to the area of the Hlazakazi Hill. After several skirmishes, Dartnell sent two men back to Isandlwana to report to Chelmsford, and to inform him that his party would spend the night on the slopes of Hlakazi.

 

Zulu king CetswayoKing of the Zulus in 1875 - Cetshwayo / Photo: Wikipedia The following morning Chelmsford and Colonel Glyn rode out in the direction of Hlakazi and met up with Dartnell, leaving the camp under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine, who at this point had a total of 1,768 men in the camp, it having also been reinforced by Durnford’s reserves. 


On the 22nd of January, a scouting party of mounted troops, led by Lieutenant Charles Raw, observed some Zulu warriors and set off in pursuit. As they approached the edge of the Mabazo overlooking the Ngwebeni Valley, they spotted a 24,000-strong Zulu force camped below. The Zulus had intended attacking the following day, but Raw's men fired into their ranks and they began to stream towards Isandlwana. Raw reached the camp around midday to warn of the approaching enemy. A defensive line was established between the rump of the hill and across the rocky plain to the Nyokane donga. Durnford's men, who had already commenced their advance, withdrew to the donga when the rocket battery was overrun.

The main Zulu attack began at 12:30 pm with 20,000 men, 4,000 being held in reserve (this reserve force would attack the post at Rorke’s Drift later in the day). At first the British line, comprised mainly of the 1st and 24th regiments, held firm with two field guns keeping up a steady fire. However, as many as a third of the Zulus were armed with some type of firearm, which eventually began to take its toll, and the warriors advanced to within 800 metres of the somewhat extended British line, due to a shortage of men who had also begun to run out of ammunition.  

Battle of IsandlwanaBattle of Isandlwana / Photo: Charles Edwin Fripp


 

Eerily, a partial solar eclipse occurred just at this time. It is fully described in transcripts from both the British and the Zulu sides. It has been calculated that it happened at 2:29 pm.

Thinking that the initial attack had failed, the Zulu commanders sent an induna forward to encourage the warriors. At this point Durnford’s position on the right collapsed and his men fell back towards the saddle, through which the warriors surged across the British line. As their line fell back from the Zulu advance, the right horn of the Zulu force had made its way behind the hill to cut off any British retreat back towards Rorke’s Drift.


Graves and memorials at IsandlwanaGraves & memorials at Isandlwana / Photo: Isibindi Zulu Lodge

By about 3 pm the British position had been overrun, and those who tried to escape the slaughter attempted to flee via the saddle between Isandlwana and Black’s Koppie. Most of these fugitives were stopped by the Zulu’s right horn, and only a few that were on horseback got away.
 

Chelmsford, who had been operating in the hills to the south-east, was informed of the disaster at 3 pm and the remnants of the central column cautiously returned to Isandlwana as evening fell. The reality of the situation, together with the reports of the ongoing battle raging at Rorke’s Drift, made him resume his march before dawn, reaching the Mzinyathi River shortly after the warriors had returned to Zululand.

Casualties on both sides were devastatingly high during the Battle of Isandlwana. Estimates of British losses were 1,357, and approximately 3,000 Zulu warriors were killed. At this news, King Cetshwayo reputedly said “Alas! A spear has been thrust into the belly of the nation”.


Johnny CleggJohnny Clegg / Photo: Randfontein Herald
 

The Battle of Isandlwana was immortalised in a famous song called “Impi”, written by South African musician Johnny Clegg (sometimes referred to as “the white Zulu”). The song is often used as a battle cry by the national rugby team, the Springboks. The lyrics are as follows:- 

IMPI  

[Written by Johnny Clegg / Performed by Johnny Clegg & Juluka] 

Impi! Wo nans impi iyeza 

Obani bengathinta amabhubesi? 

(Impi! Here come the warriors 

Who can touch the lions?)
 

All along the river 

Chelmsford's army lay asleep 

Come to crush the children of Mageba 

Come to exact the realm's price for peace 
 

And in the morning, as they saddled up to ride 

Their eyes shone with the fire and the steel 

The General told them of the task that lay ahead 

To bring the People of the Sky to heel

 

Battle of IsandlwanaBattle scene at Isandlwana / Photo: PintrestMud and sweat on polished leather 

Warm rain seeping to the bone 

They rode through the season's wet weather 

Straining for a glimpse of the foe 
 

Hopeless battalion, destined to die 

Broken by the benders of kings 

Vain glorious General, Victorian pride 

Would cost him and eight hundred men their lives 
 

They came to the side of the mountain 

Scouts rode out to spy the land 

Even as the realm's soldiers lay resting 

Mageba's forces were soon at hand 
 

And by the evening, the vultures were wheeling 

Above the ruins where the fallen lay 

An ancient song, as old as the ashes 

Echoed as Mageba's warriors marched away

 

Watch & listen to Johnny Clegg and Juluka performing "Impi" 

  

The references to Mageba are a little confusing, as the Zulu king at the time was Cetshwayo. King Mageba kaGumede (1667–1745) was one of the first leaders of the Zulu clan, after he succeeded his twin brother Phunga in 1727. The Zulu nation is sometimes referred to as “the children of Phunga and Mageba” in praise poetry. The “People of the Sky” reference is fairly obvious – iZulu means “heaven” or “sky”. There are a few instances of poetic licence in the song, but one that is quite glaring; Major-General Lord Chelmsford did not die at Isandlwana. 

[This pass was submitted by Steyn Brits]
 

[Text & video footage by Mike Leicester] 


Fact File:

GPS START 

S28.480502 E30.532118 

GPS SUMMIT S28.469296 E30.471649
GPS END  S28.469296 E30.471649
AVE GRADIENT 1:18
MAX GRADIENT 1:5
ELEVATION START 1094m
ELEVATION SUMMIT 1523m
ELEVATION END 1523m
HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS 429m
DISTANCE 7,9 km 
DIRECTION - TRAVEL West
TIME REQUIRED 8 minutes
SPEED LIMIT 60 kph
SURFACE Gravel (P194)
DATE FILMED 19.11.2017
TEMPERATURE 23C
NEAREST TOWN Pomeroy (17 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

||Click to download: Elandskraal Pass - (Note - this is a .kmz file, which can be opened in Google earth and  most GPS models)    

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