Sandwiched between the glamour and heroism of the Zulu War, and the controversy and bitterness of the Boer War, the Matabele Wars of the 1890s have long been southern Africa’s forgotten colonial wars. There is no denying that the Matabele Wars are a lot less romantic and photogenic than the Zulu War. The wonky, unreliable Gatlings and ludicrous rocket batteries of the Zulu War had given way to the highly effective Maxim guns that were seeing major action for the first time. Nevertheless, the Matabele warriors showed every bit as much heroism, determination and élan as had their kinsmen in the Zulu War. With oft-claimed links to the infamous Jameson Raid, the origins of the second Matabele War are as fascinating and controversial as those of the first, and it was a dirty, hard-fought guerrilla war, more akin to the African bush wars of the 1960s and ’70s than those waged at the height of the colonial period.
The brutal murders of women and children committed by the insurgents and the widespread use of dynamite to entomb rebels in their subterranean hiding places both sparked fury and condemnation at the time, but aside from the butchery, actions such as the Mazoe Patrol were as heroic as anything of the age. This is the first history which covers both wars in a single volume, allowing the reader to see how they flowed seamlessly into one another and how they impacted on the southern Africa. Written in Ash’s typical no-holds-barred style, the book thunders along rather than tiptoeing round modern political niceties.
Special attention is given to the many outlandish characters of the period: old-school savage tyrant Chief Lobengula, the ambitious and ever-scheming Cecil Rhodes, and the rascally Dr Jameson, of course … but also men like Captain Lendy, one of very few men in history to have died from putting a shot, Frederick Selous, the archetypal great white hunter, Kagubi the infamous witchdoctor who whipped up so much trouble during the rebellion, not to mention the likes of Plumer, Forbes, Wilson, Colenbrander, Burnham, Baden-Powell, Gifford and the extraordinary ‘Maori’ Hamilton-Browne. Indeed, the cast is probably the most fascinating part of the tale: adventurous young Anglo-Saxons from every corner of the empire and a few old Indian fighters from the American West, who all found themselves thousands of miles from home facing a valiant and terrifying enemy.