Discover South Africa
take your head out of the sand

16 December 1838


Determined to seek revenge for the murder of Piet Retief, the new leader of the Voortrekkers , Andries Pretorius, and the Voortrekkers made a pact with God at Danskraal. In the covenant a church would be built in God's honour should they be given victory over the Zulu army.

The Vow

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.

A commando was formed to seek out the Zulus and on 15 December 1838 they came into contact with a heavy Zulu presence. 64 wagons were formed into a 'D' shaped laager at the junction of the Ncome river and a gully.

The Zulus attack

On the morning of 16 December 1838 fifteen thousand Zulu warriors charged the 460 Voortrekkers but were repulsed three times. Their short spears were no match for the Voortrekkers artillery.

After the third attack the Zulus faltered and they were cut down on the veld near the banks of the stream while trying to cross the Ncome river. No prisoners were taken and at the end of the day the Ncome River (Blood River) ran red with the blood of 3000 Zulus. 

Church of the Vow

Pretorius declared that 16 December be forever remembered in Voortrekker history and that the church they promised God, the Church of the Vow, be erected in Pietermaritzburg, in rememberance.


57 bronze wagons mark the site near Wasbank. A national holiday named Dingane's Day, or Day of the Covenant was held annually and is still observed today but as the Day of Reconciliation.

On the other side of the river at the Ncome Museum the Zulu side of the confrontation is celebrated. The museum is shaped like bull's horns - the formation in which the Zulus normally attacked their enemies.

Dingane's kraal

Four days after the victory the Voortrekkers marched to Dingane's kraal, Mgungundlovu, near present day Eshowe, only to find it deserted and ablaze.

The bones of Retief and his men were found and buried where a memorial exists today. A second memorial exists where the treaty between Dingane and Piet Retief was allegedly signed.


Created: ; Last updated: