Could the statue of Richard Philip "Dick" King, located in Natal, Durban, be more included in South Africa's social and historical perspective today?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The commemorative equestrian statue, unveiled in 1915, to English trader and early settler of Port Natal in Zululand, Richard Philip "Dick" King, stands in Natal on the north shore of Durban Bay. King plays several important roles in the warring between Zulu, English and Afrikaaner Voertrekkers (i.e., pioneers) who contended for settlement of the Natal area of Durban Bay.

Event's Surrounding King's Contributions

The Bantu Zulu people were the established dwellers of the Natal area, probably having arrived from the north in the ninth century. After 1820, settlement groups of English commoners (usually poor tradesmen and their families) who had failed as farmers in the south Cape Colony migrated to north to Natal, among other places, to return to their trades. As more English entered Zululand, after asking permission of King Shaka, they were allowed peaceful settlement in return for Western weapons technology. As the Afrikaaner Voertrekkers began their northward sweeps of migration from Cape Colony in the 1830s and 1840s, tensions developed.

Having migrated in 1828 to Port Natal with his parents after their farming failed, Englishman Richard Philip "Dick" King began his rise to prominence in 1838 during the Zulu attacks on Afrikaaner Voertrekkers. King was commissioned in 1838 to travel to inland Voertrekker camps to warn them of the murder by Zulus of a delegation of Voertrekker leaders at the kraal of Zulu King Dingane. Arriving at the same time as the attacking Zulu forces, King and his party helped in the Voertrekker defense. Later, in a move to subdue Zulu attacks against the Voertrekkers, King and others, under the leadership of Biggar, went to an interior Zulu kraal only to be ambushed through a decoy. Only King and three other European men plus 500 of the defected Zulu fighters accompanying them escaped the ambush and lived to return to Port Natal.

Having proved himself in these Zulu-Afrikaaner warrings of the late 1830s, when in 1842 the now English annexed Port Natal was attacked by Afrikaaner Voertrekkers, King received his greatest commission. Voertrekkers wanted to re-annex Port Natal as Afrikaaner territory and had declared the Afrikaaner Republic of Natalia along with consolidating their forces for attack. Their objective was to drive the English out of Port Natal altogether. At the ensuing Battle of Congella, the English found themselves overpowered and trapped in the beginning of a siege.

The morning after Congella, at the request of Durban's first mayor, Christopher Cato, King and his servant, Ndongeni, began what should have been 17-day horse-ride of 960 kilometers to Grahamstown in Cape Colony where they would alert the English military and muster reinforcements and supplies for those held under siege. Ships, troops and supplies, along with King, who had made the epic journey in only 10 days, arrived in Port Natal a month later. They were just in time to save the English struggling against starvation. King's statue commemorates this valiant rallying of aid for the besieged English.

Could King's Statue Receive More Inclusion?

Knowing the story behind the monument to King helps formulate the answer to the question of could King's statue and commemoration play a wider role in South African social and cultural perspective. Divisive feelings between Afrikaaner and English groups still run high in South Africa today despite Mandella's Rainbow Nation approach to raining forgiveness, mercy and unity upon all the peoples of South Africa. In this regard, there may still be great dissent to the idea of elevating the role of an Englishman whose statue commemorates his efforts in opposition to Afrikaaners during a fight for land and control.

Nonetheless, history does note that King had no ill will, no hostile feelings toward Afrikaaner Voertrekkers. He willingly went to their aid in the 1838 wars, risking his own life on more than one occasion to save Afrikaaner people. In this regard, the statue of King might be presented and seen as a healing, unifying reminder that a nation's peoples' struggle is not--should not be--against those from within the same nation--now, the South African Rainbow Nation--but is against those form without, those who attack the nation as a whole, who seek to destroy or limit the freedom of the nation and all its people as an entity.

Because of his actions on behalf of the Afrikaaner and the English, King's statue embodies the spirit of fraternité that was upheld by the French during their revolution--liberté, égalité, fraternité--and that could provide extra granite to the foundation of the Rainbow Nation and that might perhaps mend some old, lingering rents in the fabric of South African fraternité.

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