The year 2017 – A review on the run

What it is all about. My trusty old Condor at the De Jagersdrift turn-off. I was on my way to the Blood river museum here. This year had proven to be an exceptionally good year, so far. To be quite frank, my best year since the Soccer World Cup descended upon us in all its Blatteresque overindulgence.

We plowed though the biblical seven bad years since 2010, and I am pleased to say that things are looking up considerably. Let us just hope politicians do not spoil this.

History Rules…!!!



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The year of 2017 – a sign of things to come…??

Ian Knight and I, at the Rorke's Drift battlefield.

The famed English writer, Ian Knight, on one of his regular tours to South Africa. He leads a comprehensive tour every year.

Our own year at History’s walk started out as demurely as the one before, and the one after that. January did produce a couple of interesting one, and then Isibindi Eco-Lodge stepped up to the plate.

N5, near Clarence.

Soon we were doing battlefield tours for them almost every day, in February of this year. March slowed down a tad, and then it kicked off again, in April. May to July was equally busy. Our first school tour, for Northcliff, came in in August, and was the three most interesting days on tour in the battlefields, so far. Grade 10 schoolkids, with the concomitant anthropological exercise in human behaviour, especially if some of them thought that others were looking at them. Teenage hormones……sigh.

In september we are touring with the British Army again. Can’t wait.

See you out there.


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So, you want to do a Battlefield Tour…? here’s a few thoughts.

Battlefield tour Rorke's Drift, Johann Hamman, Anglo-Zulu WarSo, you want to do a battlefield tour in the far-off wastelands of the ancient Zulu Kingdom, do you….? Here is a pointer or two:

I am a specialist military history guide, and I do battlefield tours. I have been known to do battlefield analyses as well. I have taken clients from practically all four corners of the globe to the most well-known of all our sites, especially the iconic Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.

I am NOT a mall guide or a nature guide, although I am qualified in nature guiding. I do not do nature or cultural tours. Visits to Durban or the beach are also, sort of, not on the roster. First of all, it is a good idea to find at least two nights accommodation in Dundee. (See Dundee is my base of operation, and I do all my tours from here. Driving in from Durban, Ballito Bay, Umhlanga Rocks, Kosi Bay, or all other various spots at the coast means that you will have to do travelling of up to 600 km per day before we even start the tour. (Travel agents, please take note here.)

There are two ways of doing a tour with me. Both are optional, which means it will be your own choice which one you take, and I will not order you to take an option.

Option One: The Hop-on Tour

This means exactly that. I hop on in the client(s)’ vehicle, with him/her doing all the driving, and I the guiding. This option will cost you ZAR 1600.00 at this point in time, and applies to every tour I have in my repertoire. It is a day fee, and not a fee per person. I like this option, but, as I have said, it is optional.

Option Two: Using my vehicle

012This option is somewhat more expensive, as I use my vehicle here for the tour. See the page to tour rates for options here. The Condor (see picture) can seat seven (7) persons, but I prefer to take a maximum of five people. This is more comfortable.

This option can also be combined with client vehicles, but the premium fee for my vehicle will remain in place for the day.

I am a military historian by trade, training and inclination. I am an ambassador for my history, and I will gladly teach you yours, if you do not know it. I am happy with lively discussions, and the more I can “bounce” off my clients, the more interesting our day will become.

You will be liable for any incidental costs during the day, like your refreshments, water, cool drinks, or lunch, for that matter, as well as entry fees where applicable, if I did not quote you for it beforehand. Please see the rates page on this web site. I will email you basic information upon first contact, and your itinerary for the day is up to you.

I like to see myself as a dynamic thinker and historian. I will entertain honest inquiries from anybody by all means. Please acquaint yourself with our cancellation policy, as we will not refund last-minute cancellations without good reason, or non-arrivals.


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A veteran tourist and battlefield guide….

Johann Hamman Battlefield tours, Dundee, KZNAfter Rob Gerrard’s memorial service at St. Vincents’ a few observations of this event and the people involved in this business made me think about the profession of battlefield guiding. There are currently three distinct groups of guides operating on the battlefields, namely the serious academics who endeavour to know every little bit of detail they can find and anesthetize their clients with an information deluge, then you have the operators who weave a spell-binding tale of urban legends, grandpa’s tales and something they have read in an Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society manual or an Adrian Greaves’ book and cook up a storm to old toppies and swooning young duchesses, and then you have the Veterans.

Guys (and girls) who have served time in the Armed Forces of Southwest-Africa, Namibia, South Africa and Rhodesia. There are quite a few of us. We are not the best battlefield guides in the world, and we do not work in the colours of fancy lodges or hotels, but we know that to make a battlefield your own, you take this story, and you become an ambassador of this tale. You pay homage to brothers in arms that have fallen beneath your feet, and you dip your hat in a silent, quick salute. You tell the story of the Fallen, of the Silent Parade that will never dismiss, and you make the smoke come alive and the people in front of you smell the fear, the storming surge of a victory’s exultation and you make them smell the blood and the shit of the Dead. And you make them hear it.

Then you are a good guide. When you can guide with a visceral clarity that will make your client never forget, you may be regarded as a good guide. We are not princes. We are Custodians, and we have a responsibility. Those of you who want to chase the glamour, should go work at Disneyland. You do not belong here.

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The Silent Ones

One of my last sojourns into filming, with the Diehards...

The last shots in our border war in Namibia and Angola were fired in 1989, maybe even 1990. Many of us were there. Many of us were not there. The hundreds of thousands of us that were there, and did not write a book about it, are still here. Many of us live in utter deprivation in little rooms and on street corners and are being cared for by favourite granddaughters or unwilling children. Many of us are saved from an ignominious end, living on pet food in some little shack in a “care centre” run by our own people.
There are many, many vets in dire need of support, medical or otherwise. They suffer a slow end in a country uncaring of their plight. Their comrades past and present are often their only salvation, and this had been proven over and over again. Every once so often, some unknown and forgotten hero dusts off his nutria and writes an epistle about service he should have refused, or medals he should have won.
In today’s Beeld, there is such an article. Why do we still write this bullshit so long after the fact…? Do these pen swingers have something to prove…? There are thousands of us who served silently, who died silently, and you do not read about us. No, you only read about the lead-swingers and the bastards who wanted to join the End Conscription Campaign and others of the same ilk. You only read about the psychological trauma bandits and the sufferers galore.
Why do you not read about the guys who did their job, National Service or Permanent Force, who finished the battles, who bled for Pretoria, who are now only names on marble monuments..? Men and women who now seek insurances from the company of past comrades, and who fight for the dignity of friends who are hors de combat..?
It is time to get writing about the real winners of this war. Us, the silent ones.
Silent no more. Let the corridors of power start listening…

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“By the power invested in me, soldier…..”

KZN, Battlefield Tours, Johann Hamman, Dundee, Natal, For far too long have we neglected this treasure. David Rattray knew this from the beginning. I never saw eye to eye with him, but we were never enemies. There is a number of guides shaping and building their own repertoires in his name, sliding forth on the coattails of his legacy, as far as I am concerned. I was never one to subscribe to the aberration “Why spoil a good story with the facts.” In fact, this makes my blood boil on the spot.
Would I go out there and construct a tale that makes my clients stare at me like I am the Hound of the Baskervilles revisited….? Throw in any number of fun and glorious accidents and happenings to make the tourists pay that one more rand more….? No.
I have listened to the CD’s, for sure. It’s fascinating stuff. I would not have bought it otherwise.  I also believe that we, as battlefield guides, have a responsibility towards the memory of the men and women who fought these battles on this blood-soaked part of this country. That means that you respect the memory of these brave people, many of whom met their Maker while fighting an equally brave enemy, and you do not urinate on the legacy these people left behind, by telling unsuspecting visitors all kinds of little fibs to try and establish some kind of a reputation as a raconteur. Bull.
No. You research the spellbinding tales, from Shaka to Dingane, from Piet Retief to Christiaan de Wet, from Henry Burmeister Pulleine to John North Crealock, from Charlie Pope to Edgar Anstey, from Mehlokazulu ‘The Eyes of Heaven” Kasihayo, to Sarah Rorke, that Afrikaner girl who married John, and left her countenance on museum walls and in history books, and you shout it from the heavens. You become the ambassador of our story, and you share it with the foreign audience that flocks to our part of Africa to hear it.
You become a battlefield guide. Among the best in the world….

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A Professional Battlefield Guide – some personal opinions by Johann Hamman

Touring the Anglo-Zulu War Battlefields with one of my groups. Johann Hamman Dundee Battlefield guide

What does a Professional Battlefield Guide Really Do?

I have published this article on my Linked-In profile as well. Any good battlefield guide, especially in KZN, will know that guiding clients around any battlefield in the province is one of the most intellectually stimulating pastimes in the country. This small group of men and women are among the best in the world at what they do, and I believe the following will explain why. The list is by no means exhaustive.

Books and other Printed Matter

1.1.      Any professional battlefield guide will have the most basic books  about   the industry in his or her library. In KZN, this will include Donald Morris’s 1994 Pimlico Edition of his iconic work, The Washing of the Spears. He established a benchmark from which several writers launched their own work. Several British writers  like Ian Knight, have also contributed to this genre, and it would be advantageous to get as many as you can afford. It is necessary to buy every single book you can find, as many of  them are not useful for guiding purposes.

1.2.      Maps and other sources, like historic documents and diaries,  would not be amiss either, but not everybody would have access to it.

A Personal Approach – use of aids

2.1.      I am of the opinion that it is imperative that you stamp your own,                       individual approach to the science of battlefield guiding. Do not copy other guides, but take what is good, from their work, and add your own personal touch to it. A professional guide should endeavor to know as much as possible about the battle, the events leading up to it, the way the battle was conducted, the aftermath, and a sensible analysis of the events. See paragraph  7. for a checklist for analysis.

2.2.      If you employ audio-visual aids on the battlefield, like maps or pictures, be organised. There is nothing worse than a guide who scrambles in his or her car or bags for maps or pictures and cannot find it.

2.3.      I use chairs as little as possible, as I like to walk my battlefields, but your clients might dictate otherwise. Ask them if they want/need chairs. An umbrella or two has always been most welcome in the glaring sun. Many foreign visitors badly              underestimate the African sun.

2.4.      A professional guide will always be one step ahead. Do not offer something you do not have, like a name of a bird you have no clue about, or some vague name of an ancestor that may or may  not have taken part in a battle. Nobody knows everything, and  to presume to do, is arrogant and unprofessional.

Gauging your clients/audience

3.1.      Some clients would be less averse to a dry, academic lecture than others, and a good, professional guide could ascertain this with some leading questions on the way to the battlefield. It is always good to develop a multi-cultural approach to this subject.

3.2.      What is the most common profile of a battlefield visitor, especially in KZN? To my mind, they are mostly UK visitors,  with a breakdown of American, Continental European, Australian or local visitors. A professional guide will draw his or her visitors       into the tale and place them in the middle of the event as it happened.

3.3.     A professional guide looks after his clients all the time, and let their body language guide him, up to a point. Knowing the story on a battlefield is not even half the job. If your clients are uncomfortable for any reason, they are not going to listen, never mind what you say.

3.4.      Clients who are feeling ill, are hungry, cold or too warm, are not appreciative clients. Neither are clients who are lost. I have seen guides leave their clients on Isandlwana Mountain at Captain Younghusband’s cairn, walk away from them, across the shoulder of the mountain to Captain Shepstone’s grave, and then let foreign clients find their own way to him. The question that arises here, and in similar situations, is what if one of them  had been bitten by a snake, which is not inconceivable, or had                     taken a stumble and broken something, all because they were unaided?

3.5.      Some clients may only want a rattling good yarn. They are not really concerned about all the facts of the battle on the day. I change my presentation on the fly here, but will take care not to drop standards I have set.

3.6.      Take out as many as tactical detail as safely possible, e.g. names of company commanders, maybe unit names, but remain with the more salient figures and events. Keep personal comments to a minimum, but preferably none at all. If clients are not susceptible to comments like that, one wrong word can blow a tour out of the water.

3.7.      A professional battlefield guide will never add something extra just to spice up the story for clients who are not informed about the history. The term “why spoil a good story with the facts,” is an aberration which makes my blood boil on the spot.

3.8.      A professional guide will keep on gauging his or her clients throughout the tour. Information overload is an insidious enemy which can slowly make inroads on your clients’ enjoyment,  especially on a hot day, and six to eight hours later you can have an exhausted and numbed bunch of people on your hands

The veracity of your information – Was it Percy or Tommy…

4.1.      If you do not know, then do not guess. This is imperative. If you have research sources on hand that may help you, there is NOTHING wrong with looking it up, and presenting the real  answer.

4.2.      There is nothing more embarrassing that to be told by one of your clients that you are wrong, especially if he is right. Serious military history buffs will not concern themselves with flippant information, like Pip the fox terrier at Rorke’s Drift, or the real name of the horse that Louis Napoleon rode. The tales of Louis Napoleon’s dalliance with Zulu maidens is also a classic. If you get involved in such a discussion, ‘plausible deniability’ is not going to work. Tell clients if something is rubbish, or not, and if you do not know, tell them that you have not heard of it before. It sounds better than “I do not know…”

4.3.      Much of the information available, especially on the iconic battles of Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana in general, but Isandlwana in particular, is based on conjecture, speculation and analysis of military protocol in place at the time. It is important that clients know this. You may just have a Mike Snook or Richard Holmes in your group, and if they blow you out of the water, nothing you can say, will rescue you from that point on.

You appearance/conduct on the day

5.1.      Some of the older, more experienced tour guides will have clients that know them from a previous experience. A new client is not a friend. Any undue familiarity will not work. Playing games with clients on a battlefield is not funny, especially if you make yourself look stupid.

5.2.      A professional battlefield tour guide will endeavour to avoid political discussions. It can be very difficult not to get drawn in, especially if clients make outlandish assumptions and offensive remarks.

5.3.      The Anglo – Boer War concentration camps are an old favourite. The moods/opinions of the client/s will guide you here. Terminate it as soon as possible. Change the subject to something less volatile.

5.4.      Show respect. A professional battlefield guide will never tell clients that he or she does, or does not agree with, or like what happened on the day, or something similar. This is not a contest, and as much as we would like to re-organise history, it is not possible.

5.5.      A professional guide will be presentable. You need not be overdressed, but be neat, at least.

5.6.      Do not talk too fast. You may have an encyclopedic knowledge of the battle, but many clients don’t, and especially UK clients may have problems following your accent. Make sure you understand what they are saying or asking and that you understand what they want. Do not swear, even if the clients do.

5.7.      A professional battlefield guide will never embarrass another guide in front of his or her own clients, is never rude to any clients, will never enter into a discussion with clients about another battlefield guide , and will not willfully intrude or interfere with another guide on any battlefield.

Taking care of clients on the day

6.1.      A professional guide will ensure that all clients are fit for the day’s undertaking. Check on sun protection, especially during summer, appropriate (closed) shoes, and medication, if required. Take care that asthmatics have their medications on them, and that any heart problems are declared, as it can, and will lead to problems out there.

6.2.      I have had problems on occasion when I took a client, against my better judgement, on the Fugitives’ Trail. The man had a heart attack that night in my house. Smoking, overweight clients who are in no condition to walk that trail in summer must be avoided. Not all battlefields are so strenuous, but fatalities have been recorded in the heat of summer with regard to the Battle of Isandlwana and the Fugitives’ Trail.

A Short Overview of the Principles of War

7.1.      The tale of many of the battles of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 were first retold by survivors of these confrontations. We are faced today with a myriad of secondary sources that retell these tales merely as a bloody romance. Many of these accounts are         coloured with the personal views of the narrator of the author, and leave little for the serious student of military history.

7.2.      Professor Hugh Strachan wrote that the edifying tradition of military history has endeavoured to produce what is called a checklist of principles of war. We will look at them in brief:

7.2.1.   Objective:

The importance of selecting the primary target of the current campaign. The importance of maintaining this objective is paramount here.

7.2.2.   Offensive:

The offensive is always the sought – after objective of officers on a tactical level. It maintains morale, and only it can lead to victory. It is the opposite of defensive, which       disperses resources, surrenders the iniative to the enemy, and is only acceptable as the prelude to a counter-attack.

7.2.3.   Security of Forces:

This has much to do with keeping up a guard while delivering the blow. This deals with the importance of   protecting one’s lines of communication while destroying that of the enemy.

7.2.4.   Surprise:

Physical or psychological. Ensures moral superiority over the enemy.

7.2.5.   Concentration:

Bringing the overwhelming mass of troops to bear on the most decisive point of the enemy’s position.

7.2.6.   Economy of Effort:

The ability to judge the upper limit of resources required to gain the knockout blow.

7.2.7.   Flexibility and Mobility:

Important elements in attacking with surprise. Decisive concentration. No more effort than what is required.

7.2.8.   Simplicity of Plan:

No excessive complexity of plan.Guard against overtaxing  training, capacity and command structure of men in the field. Inherent risk of breakdown.

7.2.9.   Unity of command:

Ensuring effortless co-operation between all units of force.

7.2.10. Morale:

No troops will carry out the best of plans without good morale.


Thanks for looking over this article.  If you found it interesting I would appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment below or follow me on Facebook.  I always have information on Battlefields in my local area.







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A battlefield analysis with the 4th Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s at Isandlwana

Lt.-Col. Lighten, extreme left, and the visitors from the Duke of Lancaster's 4th Battalion, at Isandlwana - Johann Hamman, Dundee, KZN, South Africa

The Duke of Lancaster’s, on the right, with Lt.-Col. Lighten on the right. We briefly, applied the following principles to each of the two battles mentioned, and discussed and absored it as the day allowed. Permit me to state that if the soldiers of the future, which were you at some point in the past, were to gain any knowledge of war, or increase the stock of actual experience, they must perforce read military history.  This profession is not sculpted entirely by desk-bound theory, and reading must be complemented by succinct and readily assimilable analysis. This checklist of immutable principles of warfare will serve as an aid for a subaltern suddenly faced with the command of a company, or a vade – mecum for a staff officer, if you like.

They are:

1.            The Object, which encompass the need to select the primary target, and not to be deflected from that aim;

2.            The Offensive, which is the stronger form of warfare, and it affirms morale,  and only it can lead to victory. Defensive is a weaker norm, because it disperses resources and yields the initiative to the enemy. Only acceptable as the prelude to a counter-attack;

3.            Security of Forces, the importance of keeping your guard up, while striking the enemy, protecting your own lines of communication, while falling upon the enemy’s ;

4.            Surprise, which is physical or psychological, and ensures moral superiority over the enemy. It must be read in conjunction with Offensive;

5.            Concentration, which is bringing the biggest mass of troops possible to bear on the decisive point;

6.            Economy of effort, which is the level at which the commanding officer decides the upper limit of strength required. This is notwithstanding the concentration principle, and has bearing on the point of using a  sledgehammer to swat a fly;

7.            Flexibility and mobility, important elements in attacking decisively, concentrating effort, and using surprise, with no more effort than is required;

8.            Simplicity of plan, as excessive complexity may overtax training, capability and command structures of the force involved. Carries its own risk of breakdown;

9.            Unity of command, ensuring effective co-operation of various parts of forces involved; and

10.          Morale, probably the most important principle of all. No amount of troops will achieve the primary objective without it.

In order to supply some perspective, I will briefly elaborate on the work of General Roland de Vries, retired and erstwhile Commanding Officer of 61 Mech Battalion, and widely seen as our own Heinz Guderian and Rommel rolled into one.  He is a staunch advocate of the all-important principle of mobility. Under his tutelage we have expounded the principles even further, and below follows a brief outline of what he had in mind:

1.            Selection and maintenance of the aim – The First Principle: – careful consideration of the true aim, well-formulated, clear, concise, unambiguous, decisive and binding. The execution thereof should lie within the grasp of those entrusted with the achievement of the end result;

2.            Concentration of effort – The Critical Principle: – Concentration of forces at the decisive point and time; it is the concentration of strength against weakness, all in one, conceptually, physically and psychologically. Be there first with the most;

3.            Economical use of Force – The Regulating Principle: – Sensible application of military capability, including cost, space and time, in relation to the intermediate objectives and the results stated as achieved in the end. Sustained resilience is implied, the ability to bounce back, where the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts;

4.            Unity of Command – The Force-multiplying Principle: – The cohesive and binding power of dynamic command and leadership in attaining unity of effort at each organisational level, tempered by sound judgement, responsibility, teamwork and mentorship – an unbroken chain of mutual trust, respect and understanding.

5.            Manoeuvre – The Victory Principle: – Seek and maintain the initiative and freedom of action by any means possible. Place the enemy on the horns of a dilemma.  Agility, mobility, flexibility of mind and clever utilisation of combat power;

6.            Offensive Action- The Élan/Audacity Principle:- Aggressiveness, tempered with initiative creates opportunities to be grasped with the aim of winning engagements and battles as to win the war. Set the terms of battle yourself.

7.            Cooperation- The Integration of Effort Principle:- The unvarying quest to achieve interdependence, teamwork, mutual support, spontaneous cooperation and shared responsibility. Implies combined arms integration and decentralisation of control on ground level;

8.            Flexibility- The Setting the Pace Principle:- Acting faster than the enemy, the ability to meet rapidly changing situations head on, tempered by mental agility and ability to improvise;

9.            Surprise- The Physical and Psychological Shock principle:- Mystify, mislead and surprise by means of agility and creative conception. Hit the enemy in his centre of gravity. Simultaneous attacks on his sensory, physical and psychological assets. Pre-emption, disruption and dislocation;

10.          Security – The “Keep our Secrets” Principle:- Deny information to the enemy at all costs, create conditions on the battlefield that will induce greater own initiative and freedom of action. Achieve mission more freely.

11.          Intelligence- The Finger on the Pulse Principle:- Maintenance of information superiority and situational awareness on every level, within sensory, physical and psychological spheres of warfare. Avoid being surprised by the enemies at all cost.

12.          Maintenance of reserves- The Aces High principle:- Adequate reserves to be planned for and provided at each appropriate level of warfare. Reserves allow commanders to influence battles at opportune moments. Soldiers can be reinforced when required, provides comfort and positively influences morale. Momentum can be maintained and opportunity exploited.

13.          Logistical support – The Enabling Principle:- Implies sound balance between the teeth and the tail. Embraces physical and moral components of warfare within sphere of logistics and administration. Adequate support makes mission accomplishment possible.

14.          Maintenance of morale – The Final Principle:- Implies engendering esprit de corps and caring for your people. Embraces tenacity, resilience and confidence in yourself, and others you are fighting with. High discipline, sound leadership, excellent training, skill at arms and comradeship.

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Touring the Kwazulu-Natal battlefields – a current perspective from a battlefield guide…

Wagon of the Covenant at Blood River Johann Hamman Battlefield guide Dundee, Kwazulu-Natal South AfricaYes, that is me, standing next to the Covenant wagon at the site of the Battle of Blood River. Like I have said, I tour any Natal battlefield you can think of, (that is not further than a day’s ride, I should add) and I do it because I am an ambassador of my people’s history, despite what many out there may think. I am a qualified military historian, and yes, our battlefield tours do not come cheap. We are not bargain basement material. We are among the best in the world at what we do, and that had been said quite a few times in the past. I will not give you a politically – tainted version of my story. I have absolutely no political affiliation in this country. That is what I told the Praetorian Guard at the Voortrekker Monument when I did my presentation on our history, as well as the concomitant tale of that Warrior Nation, the Zulus.

Come along. Lets go and the Great Shaka, Dingiswayo, Piet Retief, young Woods, Dingane, Andries Pretorius and that little Gideon’s band of his, at Ncome, the unfortunate colonel Pulleine, the brash Durnford, those heroic redcoats of the 24th and those indomitable warriors of iNkosi Ntshingwayo ka Mahole Kosa… Stand by for fireworks.

Yours under the Tin Hat

Thank you fo reading my post, and feel free to comment. Also find us on Facebook.

Johann Hamman

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Touring the KZN Battlefields: A tour guide’s musings on smaal irritations like the fuel price

With the Zimbabwean colonel at Isandlwana. For once the client supplied the transport..! With the Zimbabwean colonel at Isandlwana. For once the client supplied the transport..!

Our Southern Hemisphere winter is just sort of expiring, and the weather has been sort of psychotic up to now, to put it mildly. Howling gales, scorching berg winds one day, with a sudden drop in temperature late afternoon, which can turn into a freezing cold early evening. Despite all of this the hardy folk of Northern Natal had been hard at work to be ready for the next crop of visitors that want to see the battlefields. With the brutal rise in the fuel price the last few months, and the uncertain international picture nowadays, we can but hope that all will be well.

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