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Myths of the Anglo-Zulu War

     What is it with history? Why do so many people prefer to believe that the pyramids were built by aliens from outer space, rather than the work of generations of scholars and historians who have painfully sifted through the evidence for decades? Because myths are powerful things, that’s why, and myth often reveals more about ourselves, and our contemporary assumptions, beliefs and paranoia, than it does about the past. The Anglo-Zulu War is no different. The war has passed into folklore, both in South Africa and around the world, and in Britain in particular it has come to symbolise a certain view of the Imperial past - of a thin red line of heroes, defending the far-flung borders of Empire. The limitations of such a view are obvious enough - in Zululand in 1879, the British Empire was the aggressor - but it does help to explain the persistence of a number of enduring myths about the war. Most of these have arisen over the last 120 years as a conscious or unconscious means of explaining away or excusing aspects of the war which otherwise seem inexplicable - particularly to those raised in the tradition of British invincibility. Of course, cinema has fed upon the folklore of the war to re-cast it, and serve it up in still new forms to a wider modern audience - and in the process, perpetuated old half-truths, and created new ones!

     So - have you heard the one about …