Blood River Covenant

16 December 2018 ~ 180 years and 7 days since the covenant was made with God (The Covenant had been prepared and recited the first time on 9 December 1838). The fulfilment of the Blood River Covenant occurred on 16 December 1838 at the Battle of Blood River.

How and Why the Covenant was entered into?

The Boer Trekker commando knew they had been called together for an impossible task. The onslaught of the Zulu impis of Dingaan had wreaked havoc and destruction on all the settlers in the Natal region of South Africa since the slaughter of Piet Retief and his men. At the peace parley and celebration organised by the devious and corrupt King Dingaan, he had loured Piet Retief and his men into a defenceless position at which point Dingaan slaughtered a total of 100 men. This happened in February of 1838. Dingaan then set about systematically dispatching his impis and attacking settlements with the view of annihilating the settlers within his reach, utterly in complete disregard of the treaty he had entered into with Piet Retief and his party.

The Covenant which came about at Blood River was done of the own free will of the incumbent’s. In all the writing and information that we have available, there was at no time in the covenant any reflection or reference to the South African people as a whole. It is imperative for us to be able to understand that every individual represented in the actions at Blood River, and their lead up to the blood River covenant were individuals and not parties or groups.

The Boer Trekkers that had left the Cape Colony were faced with a massive problem in the form of Dingaan and his Zulu impis. They had already suffered the slaughter of Piet Retief and the 60 men which accompanied him to Dingaan’s kraal. After this massacre in February of 1838 a further 500 women and children and men were murdered in the follow-up by Dingaan’s impis.

To set the scene for when the covenant was made there are some really important elements we need to understand;

1. The covenant was discussed between A. W. J. (Andries) Pretorious (the appointed leader of the trek commando) and Sarel Celliers (who was the spiritual leader of the trek commando) the various commanders of the different units and individuals who were to be part of the Blood River expedition. The covenant was not made on behalf of the South African nation, the Boers, or any other ethnic group. Nobody was forced to lay down the covenant, nor were they ordered to do so. Each and every individual who participated and partook in this covenant did so of their own free will. Furthermore, there were two or three abstainers who did not partake in the covenant.

2. Sarel Celliers who led the prayers when the covenant was first laid down, initially voiced his fear, before agreeing to draw up the covenant. Celliers  was more afraid of the wrath of God than anything that the Zulus could do to him. Celliers fear was that in binding himself and his descendants to the covenant, if his descendants did not carry out the consequences of the covenant, the wrath they would suffer at the hand of God would far outweigh what the Zulus could do to him or to his descendants. This in itself spoke of a deep belief and total religious conviction of God and his workings as reflected by his actions. This was a very contentious point for Celliers.


3. The covenant consists of the following basic elements;
3.1 the promise (covenant) with God that should He deliver their enemy (the Zulu under leadership of their King Dingaan) into their hands they will,
3.2 honour (pay homage) the date and day as a Thanksgiving Day and regard it as a Sabbath day. (This must be seen in the context of the Old Testament, limitations brought about by the Jewish Sabbath.)
3.4 erect a house (church) in honour of God where He wishes,
3.5 they will tell their children that they must share in this gratification and it is to be extended to all their offspring,
3.6 the honour of this victory shall be to the credit of  God and the victory will belong to God alone.

4. There are no absolute accurate records as to when the covenant was first laid down but all accounts seem to point to 9 December 1838, this was the first time that the full Blood River expedition were gathered together at Danskraal. It is commonly reported by all that Celliers prayed the covenant on behalf of everybody gathered at evening prayers and the commando participated by saying loudly “Amen!” at the end. The elements of the covenant as displayed in three above are gathered from three or four documented recollections of the covenant.

5. The vow was not taken when the Blood River expedition was in danger, but it was taken well in advance of the known location where the confrontation on 16 December 1838 was going to take place, this was no cry for help but a carefully thought out and prepared covenant which was entered to of the own free will of each and every person in the Blood River expedition.

6. The covenant was repeated every evening leading up to the 16th of December with a fixed procedure as reported by Celliers, it was preceded by the singing of Psalm 38:v12 -v16, Celliers then prayed from Judges 6 :v1 – v24 – he also used Judges 11 : v30 – v40
Here Celleirs prayed the covenant and where everybody present affirmed the covenant with a loud “Amen”.
Then in closing they sang Psalm 38 v12 – 21 as well as Psalm 134.


Political Highjacking
On too many occasions the whole Blood River situation has been hijacked and given some additional meaning which is really totally irrelevant. In the early days it was hyped by the politicians to try to unite the Afrikaner volk, then later it became a source of identification for the ANC in South Africa to reflect on the apartheid era.

The Blood River covenant is only a vow to God, and it was never made on behalf of the nation or group of people other than the commando under the leadership of Pretoious. It was a vow which was taken by each and every person that participated in that vow in the lead up to the confrontation with the Zulus on 16 December 1838.

The vow is binding on each and every soul, and his descendants, who prayed it. The facts are very simple:

Question 1;
Did a part, of the blood River expedition participate in a vow to God in the format represented here in? The answer to this question is yes.

Question 2;
What was the content and the conditions of that vow, these are reflected in the notes above and they were clearly defined and communicated by various sources who participated in the covenant which was made with God.

Question 3;
Did God deliver the enemy in the hands of the Blood River expedition? There is absolutely no doubt in anybody’s mind that the trekkers totally overwhelmed the Zulus. In this context whether this was a miracle or not is completely and utterly irrelevant. In simple terms, the enemy was delivered in the hands of the commando and it was the turning point of the fall of Dinghan which he would never recover from.

Question 4;
In accordance with the covenant, the participating individuals of the vow place us the descendants of those that were present at Blood River under an obligation to fulfil the vow. From this flows two very real questions for you and I and that is if we are descendants, blood relations, of the incumbents who laid down the covenant with God are we obliged to fulfil this vow and how does that impact on our descendants?

Are you as a South African Obligated to keep the Vow?

The second question here is if you participated in the vow in the subsequent year’s after 16 December 1838, at the numerous occasions throughout the history of South Africa where people gathered to remember and honour the vow does that now place you in obligation of the vow? If the answer to this question is yes, then the formal obligation in terms of the vow are reflected to your descendants and you stand under that obligation as if you yourself faced the Zulus under the covenant on the 16 December 1838.

If you are a South African and a Zulu Christian how does the vow impact on your responsibility to keep the vow?

As a final note, the documented accounts and “Die Gelofte” (The Covenant) as it is known in Afrikaans was passed down to me by my parents and grandparents as I am a direct descendant of Sarel Cilliers.  So Great (X4) Grandfather Sarel Celliers was the author and covenant maker. Not only that lineage, but across at least 3 other lines including as a descendant of Piet Retief I and my children are blood of the those that stood directly under the covenant as it was grass rooted between the 9th and the 16th of December 1838. 

References: 

The Blood River Covenant referred to in Afrikaans as “Die Gelofte”.  Afrikaans vertaling; “Hier staan ons voor die Heilige God van hemel en aarde om ‘n gelofte aan Hom te maak, dat, as Hy ons sal beskerm en ons vyand in ons hande sal gee, ons die dag en datum elke jaar as ‘n dankdag (Sondag sou bewaar en herdenk) ; en dat ons ‘n huis tot Sy eer sal oprig waar dit Hom behaag, en dat ons ook aan ons kinders sal sê dat hulle met ons daarin moet deel tot nagedagtenis ook vir die opkomende geslagte. Want die eer van Sy naam sal verheerlik word deur die roem en die eer van die oorwinning aan Hom te gee.”

The Blood River Covenant – Wikipedia;  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blood_River