Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Murder of a True African


I come from the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the beautiful place whose rolling hills inspired Alan Paton to write Cry The Beloved Country. It is a crucible of urban and rural, of old cultures and new ones, of breathtaking dragon-like mountains and tropical oceans, of extreme wealth and aching poverty. It is a place where battles both old and modern have been fought in the human attempt to gain or keep tenuous hold on land.

This weekend, the beloved country is crying again. The historian and raconteur, David Rattray, who brought the Anglo-Zulu battlefields to life for thousands of visitors from Prince Charles to local schoolchildren, was murdered in his home on Friday night. This is a man who has brought tourism and jobs to a province racked by AIDs and unemployment, a man who, through his respect for Zulu culture and heritage has brought Zulu history to vibrant life. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he received the Ness Award from the RGS in recognition for his widening of the popular understanding of Zulu cultures in southern Africa. In 2001, he presented the inaugural lecture of the Laurens Van Der Post Memorial lecture series at St James Palace. And two days ago, he died, aged 49.

According to the Mail & Guardian,

His killer entered his house and fired a single shot before being ordered to re-enter the building to fire another two rounds, according to a source close to the scene.

The South African Press Association heard on Saturday morning that the leader of the gang had ordered the killer to go back inside Rattray’s home, close to his Fugitive’s Drift Lodge, near Dundee, after the first shot was fired.

Only one of the gang had entered Rattray’s home while the others, including the man who appeared to be the leader, stayed outside.

The attackers then fled.

According to his wife Nicky, David was a man who spoke to an international audience not only of the history of his beloved South Africa, but also of the miracle of nation-building and reconciliation he believed the country was living through. It’s almost impossible to believe that someone who shone the light on South Africa in this way has been killed.

Today in South Africa, the Sunday papers are full of words of condemnation and horror at the murder and the criminality that pervades society. Political and business leaders alike are saying that it cannot go on. Tourism is one of the country’s key industries and crime is its greatest threat. How tragic that a man who has promoted South Africa has to die at the hands of thugs who care only for the fleeting power of holding a gun to someone’s head.

We have to hope that these words of Paton’s, which seem prescient today, will not describe the future of my country:

I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men . . . desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it. . . . I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.

Love needs to overcome hate.

(Edited to add: Here’s a very well-written article from The Times on the Rattray murder.)


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

14 thoughts on “Murder of a True African

  1. Oh Charlotte, I’m so sorry.

  2. Charlotte,

    It must be so difficult for you to feel such pride in and yet be burdened by your homeland. Pride for the natural indigenous beauties of the land and people and burdened by the universal ugliness of tragedy such as met David Rattray. What a horrible, horrible loss. The problem is there is no explanation that could possibly explain away the heartbreak. It is up to you and anyone who has had the privilege to know the man or admire his life’s work, to tell his stories to others and their children.

  3. This is horrifying. And 49 is far too long.

  4. Sorry, brainstorm, I meant 49 is far too young. Not that murder at any age is acceptable.

  5. That is horrible — murder is always senseless but only becomes meaningless if a life is not remembered. Words such as yours, and all who remember David Rattray, ensure that his legacy will live on.

  6. I didn’t know about this and I am here – still a long way from KwaZulu-Natal but in South Africa. Sometimes to keep hope and optimism alive it helps to stay away from the news, despair only makes things worse.

    We have to live hopefully for the country to have a future and to bring good energy to it. The challenge is to keep hope alive, while still knowing the bad news and such a man deserves to have his memory live on.

  7. On my knees for the country of our birth!…
    When is this madness going to end or people begin to listen? I am at such a loss again and saddened by my own quiet complacency with which I react nowdays to such awful news!

  8. Sometimes it is so hard to live here, in this village so fraught with violence and unexplainable pain. A close friend of mine’s daughter has been going out with David Rattray’s son for years; my neighbour is a close friend of his; and my husband and I spent our honeymoon driving up through Zululand to the idyllic Rocktail Bay on the border of Mocambique listening to David’s tapes in our little rented car. We hardly spoke for hours, except to rewind a section. I have kept meaning to got to his lodge at Fugitive’s Drift to hear him recount this story in person, but never seemed to make the time. Now it is too late. I am devastated. But it is not just David’s death that has rocked my world, it is picking up the paper EVERYDAY here and reading about people assaulted and killed in their homes; it affects all communities, all races, all South africans. We stood together and fought apartheid, surely we can stand together and fight crime. We have to.

    Do yourselves a favour and order his CD called the Night of the Dark Moon from Amazon. He tells the story of the Anglo-Zulu war and it is riveting. Also his new book is about to be released.

  9. So sorry to hear this, Charlotte. I’ve often felt that those of us from the American South have a lot in common with those of you from South Africa (although I’m a generation removed from the segregated South). You feel such pride and commitment to what’s right and good and beautiful about your place of origin and yet so ashamed of all that’s so wrong, and often so misunderstood — and unlike many other places in the world, others are far too happy to point out all that’s wrong to you (most especially “well-meaning others” who often have no understanding). I feel for you, and here’s to some much-needed healing for all who live in your home country.

  10. That is just terrible. Unfortunately I think that people will not stop hating until the root cause of their hate is addressed. Seems like most often these days the causes are economic or religious, though really the true root of hate is fear.

  11. What an immense loss to South Africa this is. I had the priviledge of hearing David Rattrey talk on several occasions, and he was a truly wonderful historian, raconteur. His love for the country, and for the Zulu nation, went deep and it is a ghastly thought that it was probably a Zulu who killed him. I can’t imagine the horror of his pointless murder for his wife, sons and friends. I second Pillowblogger’s comment to get hold of the CD of ‘Night of the Dark Moon’.
    I have also been rocked by the murder in December of another truly talented South African, Taliep Petersen, who created the hit musical ‘Kat & the Kings’. His latest production ‘Spice Beat Ghoema’ was playing at the Tricycle Theatre here in London and I went with my daughter and other SA exiles, we were appalled to be told that he had been shot in Cape Town just a few nights earlier having flown home from London for a family event. My heart bleeds for the country, it cannot afford to loose people like this.

  12. I’m deeply sorry for this loss Charlotte. I agree with you 100%–those of us with love in our hearts *must* continue to overcome the hate in this world. *Hugs to you and your family*

  13. Oh, Charlotte, I hardly know what to say. What a horrible tragedy. It immediately makes me think of the book “The Constant Gardener.” Hatred is such a powerful force, sometimes I despair of love ever overcoming it.

  14. well, let me tell you all this. Qfter living in South africa for 28 years, I finally made the journey there to the battlefields, and take my word for it, Rattrey or no Rattrey, the man passed his story telling skills on, and it was one of my best experiences to date; worth the money, effort and time.
    Gladly ask me all about it

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