Times of Oman
Sep 01, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 08:48 PM GMT
A political cover-up - The David Grey Rattray murder
May 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

It was a classic moment of British imperial history... when less than 60 red-coated infantrymen fought off thousands of marauding Zulus, dying in the attempt and turning defeat into a Victorian legend.

That was siege of the remote South African Rorke's Drift in the Zulu War of 1879, which resulted in 11 posthumous VCs and turned tragedy into triumph and the Zulu nation into villains of history.

That was until, more than a century later, David Rattray decided to put the record straight. A South African historian, he decided to put the Zulu side of the war — to explain why the Zulu nation felt the British had given them a raw deal.

As a result the mild-mannered academic found to his surprise that he was being hailed as the "White Zulu" and became an international media hero.

The Zulu wars became David Rattray's life. Many feel they also brought about his violent and untimely death.

A fluent Zulu speaker, Rattray moved with his family to Zulu territory, building a house and a resort hotel overlooking Rorke's Drift and began to research the history of the nation and put together the other side of the story.

Soon his mesmerising lectures on the Zulu war made his Fugitives' Drift resort hotel a major tourist destination. Thousands came to hear him give talks which raised tens of thousands of pounds for Zulu causes and charities.

Rattray's passion for the Zulu cause dated from his childhood. His father owned land in the area and young David learned local languages and pieced together the battle narratives from the Zulu point of view.

They were very different from the version to be made famous by the movie Zulu, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker.

So obsessed did Rattray become with the untold stories of the Zulu wars that he decided to make them his life's study. When he was 30 he moved to Rorke's Drift with his wife Nicky and three sons from where they guided tourists around the battlefield sites. He discovered he was a very gifted story-teller and soon his lectures, often lasting as long as four hours, were holding his listeners spellbound and often reducing them to tears.

He became a close friend of the UK's Prince Charles, who stayed at Rorke's Drift with his sons after the death of Princess Diana. Soon battlefield tours were becoming a major tourist attraction, providing much needed income for the Zulus.

One friend said: "He put food on their tables and gave them a dignity they hadn't enjoyed since their days as warriors. He treated them with respect and everyone loved him."

Not everyone. In December 2006, six armed men arrived at his lodge. Witnesses would say that 48-year-old David Rattray was told "to stay out of Zulu politics".

When it was obvious that he would do no such thing, the men came back a week later and shot him dead.

Police have always maintained it was a robbery that ended in violence but witnesses claim that the men left empty-handed and that the man who shot Rattray was even sent back twice to shoot him a third time. Eye-witnesses would claim that the killers burst into the hotel and held up the receptionist, shouting: "Where's David? Leaving one man to guard the receptionist at gunpoint the other five moved on to the family's one-storey farmhouse 100 yards behind the hotel.

There they confronted David's wife, Nicky who asked what they wanted. At that moment David Rattray was changing his clothes before going cycling — a sport he had taken up to keep fit.

Hearing his wife's voice, he hurried out to confront the men, asking them not to harm his wife or the hotel staff.

"I expect it's me you want," he said. They were the last words he spoke.  
He was shot at point-blank range in the chest and shoulders while charging at the gunmen to protect his wife.

Another eye-witness said: "They were coming for Dave. They didn't look at Nicky or any of the expensive things in the house. There were valuable cameras lying on the table but nobody has even touched them.

"There was also money in the safe which could easily be taken, but all the men seemed concerned about was making sure that David Rattray was dead."
Nicky Rattray, standing guard over her husband's body while she waited for the police, phoned his sister Julia with the terrible news.

Julia later said: "David had devoted his whole life to the Zulu community. He was one of the greatest ambassadors this country has seen and now he's gone.   
"He built up the poverty-stricken Zulu people, enhanced their lives and gave them jobs. He treated them with a lot of respect. We all will find his death very hard to forgive."

Two days later police claimed to have arrested the ringleader of the gang, 23-year-old Fethe Nkyanyana, in a small town 200 miles from Johannesburg.

He said that another member of the gang had approached him saying that a lot of money had been paid out for David Rattray's murder and that "certain authorities would turn a blind eye" on those involved.

Later Nkyanyana pleaded guilty to murdering Rattray although he said he had been outside the house at time. He was jailed for 25 years. None of the other gang members were arrested.

David Rattray's remarkable ability to transport his listeners back to the epic battles and recreate their sights and sounds earned him the title "Laurence Olivier of the battlefield."

A friend said: "He would sit his audience down on a slope near a battleground and recount what happened for hours, first from the British point of view, then as the Zulus experienced it.

"He switched between the two languages and used a stick as a rifle then as a spear. By the time of his murder over 100,000 had passed through Fugitives Drift including 94 British generals and four field-marshals.

"No one who heard him speak would ever forget it. It was like watching and listening to a classic Hollywood movie. It was goose-bump stuff. David changed the way people thought about history."

As thousands of mourners gathered for David Rattray's funeral in the Drakensburg Mountains, a message from the Prince of Wales was read.

It said: "In common with so many who loved and admired dear David I have rarely experienced such a sense of overwhelming despair at the news of his untimely and brutal death. His story-telling powers were profoundly moving and reduced most of his listeners to tears."

Zulu chief Mangosuthu Butelezi told mourners: "We have lost someone we regarded as a hero and who represented the best of us. I have never met a man who loved our country with such depth."

As anger over David Rattray's murder shows no sign of fading, the government is under increasing pressure to hold an official inquiry into the mystery which still surrounds the crime.

Protesters want to know why the man claimed to be the real gang-leader, Sibonele Mpanza, who ordered the shooting, is still at liberty? Is he being protected, and if so by whom?

And only recently a government spokesman responding to their concerns with: "What's the fuss all about? It's all history now."

But according to the thousands who still believe there was a political cover-up, the fuss surrounding the death of David Rattray has hardly started.    

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