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On that cloudless morning, Retief, after saddling up, was asked to report with his men and servants to the parade ground so that the king could wish them farewell. As a mark of respect they were asked to leave their guns outside.
The Boers, seated on the ground were surrounded by a large group of dancers that performed a long dance, gradually moving away from and towards them. Dingane also joined in but at one point he stopped, raised his arm to absolute silence and shouted again and again 'Bulalani abathagathi!' - Kill the wizards!
The Boers were immediately set upon, each by a dozen warriors and bound. One Boer, who had a pocketknife, managed to dispatch a couple before he succumbed. The whole group, including the thirty servants was dragged, struggling, down the hill, across the stream and up to kwaMatiwane where they were clubbed or skewered to death.
Retief was the last to die and had to witness the death of his comrades and of his son. After he was put to death, his heart and liver were removed and presented to the king.
The Reverend Owen at the adjacent mission witnessed and recorded the entire calamity and was allowed to leave Umgungundlovu for Durban after a few days. Dingane had sent warriors that morning to warn him of what was about to happen and to assure him that no harm would befall Owen, his wife or his sister. William Wood witnessed the massacre from the hill above kwaMatiwane and in 1841, wrote a short account of it.
Possible Reasons for the Massacre
During the night before the massacre, Zulu warriors heard the sound of hooves outside the great kraal and believed that, as wizards of their race rode on hyenas, those of the white man rode on horses. It is likely that these were the Boers' stray horses that were rounded up prior to preparing to depart. Roman - Piet Retief's assistant and eyewitness to the massacre is shown at right.
The blame for the tragedy was also placed on the settlers from Durban who were alleged to have goaded the king into the killing because they had no wish to see the Voortrekkers in Natal.
In the afternoon of the massacre, Dingane sent his entire army to the Drakensberg foothills to kill the remaining Voortrekkers.