Zulu war Historian murdered

TOURISM in KwaZulu-Natal was dealt a shocking blow last night with the slaying of internationally renowned historian, raconteur and Anglo-Zulu War expert David Rattray at his home in Fugitive’s Drift. Coming after seven hijackings of tourists in northern KZN coastal areas in the last month, this latest killing has raised concerns about the future of tourism in KZN.

A close family friend told Weekend Witness that he had learnt from Rattray’s wife, Nicky, right after the incident, that the couple had been in their bedroom, with Rattray changing to go cycling, just before 6 pm when they had heard their domestic worker screaming. When the couple went to investigate they were confronted by six armed suspects, one of whom was wearing a balaclava, who had originally entered Rattray’s Fugitive Drift Lodge office and held up the receptionist, demanding money before asking for Rattray (58) by name and breaking into the Rattrays’ house.

The source told Weekend Witness that Rattray had pushed Nicky down to the ground, at which point one of the suspects opened fire three times, two of which missed Rattray. But the third was fatal. It is believed that nothing was stolen. Certain friends have speculated that the killing had a motive other than robbery.

Best known for his dramatic interpretations of Anglo-Zulu battles, right on the battlefield as well as on international tours, even on international flights, Rattray, who has been described as the “Laurence Olivier of the battlefield” and the “Battlefield Bard”, lived at the world-famous Fugitive’s Drift Lodge with his wife in the Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River area where, in 1879, British troops fleeing the battlefield of Isandlwana tried to make their escape following the crushing defeat inflicted by Zulu warriors on the British force. The distinctive sphinx-shaped silhouette of the mountain that shadows the battlefield is visible from the lodge.

Rattray and his wife, university sweetheart Nicky, hosted a constant stream of often distinguished, international visitors around the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. In December 2001, Rattray’s contribution to tourism in South Africa was recognised at the Tatler Travel Awards 2002 ceremony and he was awarded the Tatler/Gordon Campbell Gray award for vision in tourism. Rattray wrote the David Rattray’s Guidebook to the Anglo-Zulu War Battlefields and had just completed another book, A Soldier Artist in Zululand.

He was introduced to Zulu lore by life-long friend Mzongani “Satchmo” Mpanza, and the two spent days on expeditions into remote areas. In June 1999, Rattray received the Ness Award from the Royal Geographic Society in recognition of widening the popular understanding of Zulu culture in southern Africa.

Describing the shooting as “mindless”, KZN-based British tour operator, former senior British army cavalry officer Colonel Reggie Purbrick, who has been bringing British youths to KZN for the past 10 years for “Berg, beach and battlefield” educational tours, told Weekend Witness that Rattray had been an integral part of the tourism attraction and educational value. “David was the one man in the world who had done more to promote black and white, especially Zulu and British reconciliation than any other. I can assure you that David was the one man in the world, who has continually preached reconciliation in every lecture he gave, the last man to hope that this sort of incident would impact on British tourism. My own personal feeling is, of course, that it will,” he said.

“I see this [crime] as a watershed in terms of how we are viewed overseas. What a sickening affair.”

The impact of Rattray’s murder on tourism in South Africa will depend, he added, on how it is handled by the press, both at home and abroad, and also upon “how the country’s authorities address the awful and gratuitous violence being committed every day” in South Africa.
Contacted by Weekend Witness reporters, Fugitive’s Drift Lodge staff said the Lodge had no plans to close down.

SAPS officials were unable to offer any more information to Weekend Witness by the time of going to press.
Kwanalu president Robin Barnsley expressed his outrage at the killing, saying he is concerned with the level of violence in the rural areas. Kwanalu met with MEC of safety security and transport Bheki Cele recently to discuss these issues. Barnsley called on government to “make sure that all elements of rural society are pulling together to stop the violence”.

Agricultural Union chairman, and neighbour Hermann de Wet, who is also in charge of SAPS reservists, said that the community had mobilised forces to search for the suspects, but that no suspects had yet been identified.

KZN heritage body Amafa chair Arthur Koningkramer, who knew Rattray for 40 years, said he was “a very kind and gentle man”.
“It’s an absolute outrage,” said Koningkramer last night. “And it’s going to have very serious implications for South Africa.”

Rattray was born in Johannesburg in 1958 and was educated at Pridwin and St Alban’s Collge. He graduated from the University of Natal in 1982, with a BSc Honours Degree in entomology. When he left university he went to work at Mala Mala Game Reserve as a manager from 1983 to 1988. After that he moved to Rorke’s Drift, where he settled down with his wife.

Ratray was a trustee of the Siyasiza Trust, the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation and the John Voelker Bird Book Fund. In 1998, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical society.
Apart from owning and running the Fugitive Drift Lodge, Rattray also half-owned the exclusive Three Tree Hill Lodge.
A terrible tragedy and a great loss.

I used to listen to his audio tapes, 'Day of the Dead Moon', in which he told the story of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift in a mesmerising way, blending personal anecdote with an incredibly detailed historical knowledge.

I visited at Fugitives drift last year, its in the middle of nowhere and appears far away from armed criminality, A truley beautiful place.

What a shame

RIP Mate.


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