John Muafangejo and Rorke’s Drift

Rorke’s Drift’s claim to fame is as an icon of British military history. It’s in the heart of what used to be the Zulu Kingdom, and here a tiny remnant of British forces held off several thousand Zulu warriors in 1879. Never mind that the Zulu had pretty much wiped out the British at Isandlhwana, just up the road, the day before. This is what the British military choose to recall, and what Hollywood makes movies about. Think Zulu (1964).

But I’m not much of a battlefields’ buff. Instead, I’ve taken this route northeast of Pietermaritzburg because the battle at Rorke’s Drift was at a Swedish Lutheran mission station. (On who cleaned up the mess and repaired the mission’s buildings after the battle was over, military historians are scrupulously silent.)

Less than a century later, in the 1960s, the Lutheran mission began an arts and craft center. Apartheid was in full sway, and the idea was to bring black artists to Rorke’s Drift for further training, and to do their own work in the mission’s studio.

I know of this story because of John Muafangejo. He trained here. I met him in Windhoek, in Namibia, in 1983. He was teaching survivors of landmines to make some marvelous wool tapestries, a project the Diocese there helped to start. I still recall their sitting in front of their looms, in wheelchairs.

But Muafangejo was known most for his woodcuts, large things on liberation struggle themes. I bought two.

A troubled man, he committed suicide a few years back. There is a book of his woodcuts out. Madiba, Nelson Mandela, wrote the foreword.


We visit Isandhlwana this afternoon. Near the battlefield is an Anglican church – named St. Vincent’s, on whose feast day the battle was fought. The church was built only five years after the Anglo-Zulu War ended.

Its stained glass windows depict ‘Christian Warriors.’