I had a nagging doubt that morning I set out to pick up those two clients from Nambiti on the 22 of January this year. Guess what…? It was the anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana, and President Zuma and his guest, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museweni, were going to be there. The Dundee Diehards had been asked on short notice to arrange for a re-enactment of the battle at 1100 hours.
This re-enactment was primarily arranged for the president and his guests, and the local tourism and hospitality sector did not really know about that until the very last moment. Which, in my case, was the night before. I left early the next morning, picked up the guests, and the trouble started immediately. The client informed me that he had specifically booked his trip for this re-enactment. I knew that he was lying, as I had been told by the tour operator that brought him out, that they had informed the lodge where he was staying the day before. I was also told that I had to be back at Nambiti by three for a game drive.
Now, let’s look at this. It is just over 70 km to the reserve gate, 70 km back to Dundee and another 63 km to Isandlwana. To crown it all, I phoned that morning and told that the re-enactment had been brough forward to 0900 hours. My pick-up time was scheduled for 0830. Uh-oh….
I decide to take the Helpmekaar Road from Ladysmith, to cut through to Helpmekaar and then down the Knostrope Pass, in order to save time. This well-meant advice from a colleague was disastrous, as it is not at all a shorter route. Needless to say, I drove almost 200 km one way that morning, and when we got to Isandlwana, the re-enactment was over. The client was as interested in a battlefield tour as I was in a visit to a macrame class, and only wanted to see Zulu maidens dance. He was very thrilled when I got him a picture of him and his wife with two indunas, one who was a friend of mine. He grasped the Zulu by the hand, bowed deeply, and said what an honour this was.
We spent some more time there, and got permission to enter the big enclosure where the South African president and his retinue sat. The client was starting to get upset again when it dawned on him that he was not going to see any bare-breasted Zulu maidens dance, and we had to turn around anyway, as I had to see him off at Namibiti at 1500 hours.
That little voice that told me that this was impossible, started nagging at me again. It told me, again, that I should have declined this tour. What the hell, as I will try anything once, I did my best to assure this man and his wife a pleasant trip at least, but he started attacking me in the car, and told me that we will soon know whom we are dealing with here. Some tour guides will tell you that this is the point where you apologise profusely, and take everything the client throws at you up the ass. This man started slagging off the local tourist industry, and told me that I should have phoned ahead and found out what my clients wanted for the day, and picked them up at 0600 if the day required it. He then started to demand that I explain my incompetence, and that was where my combative de Jager genes kicked in. I told him to take it up with the people that booked the tour, as he was definitely not my client, and I will not discuss this matter with him in this manner.
He muttered in the back of the car, but I was determined not to loose my cool. I left him in Nambiti well in time for his game drive.
This brings me to my question. I am a professional battlefield guide and qualified military historian. There are more than a few of us in Dundee. We prize our competence and professionalism very highly, and had been told by numerous clients across the world that this is indeed the case. That is also why we are an expensive commodity. We are not Zulu culture guides, site guides, nature or Durban town guides. No. We are Battlefield Guides. We analyse battles, and re-tell spellbinding tales to people who want to hear them.
A battlefield tour is a highly specialised venture meant for history buffs and interested people. It is not a quick trip to the beach or the fun fair, and is not a game – viewing trip. This is a trip where we investigate the brave deeds of men from the past, often fought in desperate and futile battles, to the very end where only the victor remained standing, and the smell of blood and guts was in the air. If their deeds and courage appeals to you, this is a trip for you where I will recreate the sound of the guns and the smell of fear. I will tell the story of men who now are only vague memories under sunbleached stones, or distant names on time-scarred marble.
If this appeals to you, a battlefield tour may just be some quality time to spend a day. This is NOT a trip to take your six month-old firstborn with you, as you will be with me for the best part of the day, most often in blinding sunshine, and if you had dragged your most – unwilling wife along to take care of a shrieking baby, you will assuredly have domestic strife that evening.