As a child it used to drive me nuts. My birthday was a perpetual Sunday and all the bioscopes (movie houses) were closed. There was no TV or Internet back then in 1950s and 1960s South Africa.
The Nightmare Background
I was a little older when I started learning the meaning of all this. In truth, it was only while writing the book AmaBhulu some years ago that the true terror and scope of the challenge that gave rise to the Covenant became clear to me. It was only then that the significance of being a Geloftebaba, a Child of the Covenant, struck me.
On 9 December 1838, some 400 men of the old Afrikaner Voortekkers (Eng: those trekkers who lead the way) first made a Covenant with God that, if He should give them Victory over the treacherous Zulu king Dingane, they would erect a Church in his name and forevermore treat the day of the victory as a Sunday.
Prior to this, these men had crossed the largely uninhabited Free State prairie strewn with bleached human skeletons. Then they had clashed with Mzilikazi of the Matabele, who lived far to the northwest, because they had inadvertently ridden into his no-man’s-land. They had defeated him and driven him to what is now Zimbabwe. They had then crossed the Drakensberg and signed a treaty with King Dingane of the Zulu. He had offered them land to the south of his heartland if they would recover his stolen cattle from Sekonyela of what used to be the frightening Mantatee Horde, but who were now again known by their original name, the Ba’Tlokwa. They retrieved the cattle, but after the deal was signed, as they were preparing to leave, the king had set his army upon them and slaughtered the entire Trekker contingent of 100 men. Dingane had them impaled. Then he had sent his army to kill the women and children. It had been a terrible massacre of 400 souls (above) in February 1838.
The Trekkers had survived this, as well as two more pitched engagements. The British contingent from Port Natal (Durban) had also tried to take down Dingane, but were badly beaten and physically driven into the sea at Durban (onto the brig Comet, from which they had to sit and watch helplessly as the Zulu trashed their little settlement).
It was now 10 months later, the Trekkers had studied their enemy, knew his tactics, and had been reinforced with more men. They numbered some 407. They also had a new leader in Andries Pretorius, who had arrived with a tiny little homemade cannon. One hundred Zulus, armed with guns, had joined them [YES!!! – people forget that bit]. Between three and five Englishmen, including Alexander Biggar, had joined them – [YES!!! people forget that bit also]. The battle was eventually to happen on 16 December 1838, my perpetual birthday. But the religious runup to the event started earlier.
It was likely on 9 December 1838 that the Covenant service was first conducted. Sarel Celliers has it as the 7th of December and Jan Bantjes as the 10th. Jan Bantjes clearly describes events of a Sunday. These simple farmers were much more likely to have the day of the week correct than the calendar date. The Sunday in that week was in fact the 9th of December 1838. The official scribe of this force was Jan Bantjes, and it is to him that I turn for his exquisitely detailed description of the event. (John Bird’s, Annals of Natal Vol.1, (1888), p.445):
On Sunday morning, before divine service commenced the, chief commandant called together all those who were to perform that service, and requested them to propose to the congregation “that they should all fervently in spirit and in truth, pray to God for His relief and assistance in their struggle with the enemy: that he wanted to make a vow to God Almighty, if they were all willing, that should the Lord be pleased to grant us the victory, we would raise a house to the memory of His great name wherever it might please Him,” and that they should also supplicate the aid and assistance of God to enable them to fulfil their vow; and that we would note the day of the victory in a book, to make it known even to our latest posterity, in order that it might be celebrated to the honour of God.
He [Sarel Celliers] commenced by singing from Psalm xxxviii, verses 12-16, then delivered a prayer and preached about the twenty four first verses of the Book of Judges; and thereafter delivered the prayer in which the before-mentioned vow to God was made, with a fervent supplication for the Lord’s aid and assistance in the fulfilment thereof. The 12th and 21st verses of the said xxxviii Psalm were again sung, and the service was concluded with singing the cxxxiv Psalm. In the afternoon the congregations assembled again and several appropriate verses were sung. Mr Celliers again made a speech, and delivered prayers solemnly; and in the same manner the evening was also spent.
I next give the floor to Sarel Celliers (below), the man who actually conducted the services, to tell us about it many years later in 1870, when his memory as a 69 year-old man may have been fading a little (John Bird’s, Annals of Natal Vol.1, (1888), pp.244-252):
I took my place on a gun carriage. The 407 men of the force were assembled round me. I made the promise in a simple manner as solemnly as the Lord enabled me to do. As nearly as I can remember, my words were these:
“My brethren and fellow countrymen, at this moment we stand before the holy God of heaven and earth, to make a promise, if He will be with us, and protect us, and deliver the enemy into our hands so that we may triumph over him, that we shall observe the day and the date as an anniversary in each year, and a day of Thanksgiving like the Sabbath, in His honour; and that we shall enjoin our children that they must take part with us in this, for a remembrance even for our posterity; and if anyone sees a difficulty in this, let him retire from the place. For the honour of His name will be joyfully exalted, and to Him the fame and the honour of the victory must be given.”
I said, further, that we must join in prayer to be raised up to the throne of His grace; and so forth. And I raised my hands towards the heavens in the name of us all. Moreover, we confirmed this in our prayers each evening, as well as on the next Sabbath. Every evening, at three places, there was an evening service.
The Lord was with us.
As to what I have written, He who knows all things, knows that I have not wittingly written an untruth.
(Signed) S. A. Celliers, Elder
By God’s enduring mercy and grace, 69 years old.
(Signed) W.S. van Rijneveld
The Covenant was presented as follows in the Zuid-Afrikaan newspaper in 1839, back in the Cape Colony:
Here we stand before the holy God of heaven and earth, to make a vow to Him that, if He will protect us and give our enemy into our hand, we shall keep this day and date every year as a day of thanksgiving like a sabbath, and that we shall erect a house to His honour wherever it should please Him, and that we also will tell our children that they should share in that with us in memory for future generations. For the honour of His name will be glorified by giving Him the fame and honour for the victory.
The Battle of the Ncome River : Blood River
The Battle of Blood River, fought from daybreak on 16 December 1838, exactly 180 years ago today, against 10,000-15,000 very brave battle hardened Zulu soldiers using well-tried and very succesful tactics, was an overwhelming victory for the Trekkers; their first against the mighty Zulu Army. That Zulu Army, employing basically the same tactics and assegaais (spears), completely annihilated a vastly larger and vastly better equipped British Army 41 years later in 1879. On 16 December 1838 the 400 men in their wagon circle (memorial below), with their faith in their Covenant, suffered three flesh wounds, while more than 3,000 Zulu soldiers lay dead. The Ncome River ran red with blood – hence its future name: Blood River. The worst wound was that of Trekker leader Andires Pretorius, who was stabbed through the hand while trying to get a Zulu warrior to take a letter to the Zulu King. The Zulu myth of Invincibility lay shattered. That Battle and its outcome has been seen for 180 years as one of the prime examples in World History of Divine Intervention, and that is true not only in South Africa. The dramatic blow-by-blow detail of the battle may be read in the book AmaBhulu.
The Covenant Today
The Afrikaners of South Africa, of all extractions, languages and skin colours again face a terrible challenge. In these troubled times we might well remember the vow our forefathers took. It is also against the background that I place here the link to the music video, Die Gelofte (The Vow – image below). May it inspire a few souls in South Africa and abroad to stand up and do what is right, before it is too late.
Today I become a pensioner in Canada and I might as well grow up and understand the significance of this day…. and it has nothing whatsoever to do with it being my birthday. It has everything to do with my family and people facing Ethnic Cleansing in the country of their great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers. My one great prayer on this day, is that President Trump will intervene and put pressure on the racist ANC Government of South Africa to stop its brazenly racist policies and its daily threats against the White people of that beautiful country.
Along with it, goes the music video of Die Land behoort aan jou (The Land belongs to you), which represents a musical oath by the Afrikaner people of South Africa to the next generation that they shall, as a people, hold onto the land of their forefathers.