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South Africa Medal (1880)
South Africa Medal (1877).jpg
Awarded by the Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Type Military Campaign medal
Eligibility British forces & Colonial volunteers
Awarded for Campaign service
Campaign Gaika-Gcaleka War 1877-8
Chief Pokwane 1878
Griqua War 1878
Chief Sekhukhune 1878
Anglo-Zulu War 1879
Chief Moirosi 1879
Chief Sekhukhune 1879
Clasps 1877
Established August 1880
Total awarded 37,144
Order of wear
Next (higher) Ashantee Medal
Next (lower) Afghanistan Medal (United Kingdom)
Related South Africa Medal (1854)
South Africa Medal (1854).png
Ribbon bar

The South Africa Medal (1880), often referred to as the Zulu War Medal, was a campaign medal, instituted in 1880, that was awarded by the British Government to members of the British Army, Royal Naval Brigade and Colonial Volunteers who were involved in a series of South African tribal wars in the Cape Colony, Colony of Natal and Transvaal between 1877 and 1879, most notably for the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.[1]


In 1854 Queen Victoria had given approval for the award of the South Africa Medal (1854) to members of the British Army who had served in any one of the three South African Xhosa Wars of 1834–36, 1846–47 and 1850–53 on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony.[1]

Between 1877 and 1879 a number of particularly difficult punitive expeditions were mounted by the British against Xhosa, Zulu and Basuto tribes in the eastern area of the Cape Colony and northern Natal, as well as against the Bapedi of Chief Sekhukhune in the northern Transvaal. In 1880 a medal was sanctioned for these campaigns that was a new version of the South Africa Medal (1854) with a slightly modified reverse design.[2]

While Army Order no. 103 of August 1880, which instituted the new South Africa Medal (1880), made no mention of any change in design of the 1854 medal, the year "1853" in the older medal's reverse exergue was replaced by a military trophy consisting of a Zulu ox-hide shield and four crossed assegais. The obverse of the new medal and the ribbon remained identical to those of the earlier medal.[1]

Award criteria

The new version of the medal was instituted in 1880 to recognise service in a number of campaigns over the preceding three years to bring the eastern area of the Cape Colony and northern Natal under British control, which effectively meant the pacification by force of the unruly local tribes. The medal could be awarded to all personnel, British regular forces, Colonial Volunteers and native levies included, who had served in any of the campaigns in South Africa between September 1877 and December 1879. The military operations during this period were a series of separate campaigns against specific tribes and the unrest would eventually culminate in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. Hence, the medal is often referred to as the Zulu War Medal.[3]

Altogether seven different clasps were awarded to display the year or years in which the recipient had actually served in any of these campaigns.[1][3][4]


The campaigns were the Gaika-Gcaleka War from 26 September 1877 to 28 June 1878, the action against Chief Pokwane from 21 to 28 January 1878, the Griqua War from 24 April to 13 November 1878, the action against Chief Sekhukhune in late 1878, the Anglo-Zulu War from 11 January to 1 September 1879, the action against the uprising in Basutoland under Chief Moirosi from 25 March to 20 November 1879 and the second action against Chief Sekhukhune from 11 November to 2 December 1879.[1][3][4]


King Cetshwayo kaMpande became King of the Zulus in 1873, but had been their effective ruler since 1856. Cetshwayo perceived the British as a threat to his rule and embarked upon a programme to equip his army with muskets, while inciting revolts among other tribes all along the British and Boer borders with the Zulus. Actions to counter these revolts and attacks escalated and led to reinforcements being sent from Britain over the course of 1878 to quell Cetshwayo and his uprisings.[3][5][6]

Gaika-Gcaleka War

The Gaika-Gcaleka War was a series of punitive campaigns that resulted from the attacks of the Gcaleka and Gaika tribes on a protected people, the Fengu. The campaigns against the insurgent Gcaleka and Gaika lasted some eight months and were carried out by local Colonial Forces as well as contingents of both the British Army and the Royal Navy serving ashore. The Gaika-Gcaleka War, which became known as the Ninth Cape Frontier War, ended with the annexation of the Transkei, homeland of the Gcaleka peoples, to the Cape Colony.[7]

Sekhukhune Wars

Once the Gaika-Gcaleka War was settled, those forces not embroiled in the developing conflict in Zululand were employed against a Basuto tribe in the northern Transvaal, the Bapedi of Chief Sekhukhune, whose raids had begun to affect tribes under British protection. After an initial sally against his fortress at Thaba Ya Leolo in late 1878 had proved ineffective, a larger force overran his fortress in November 1879. The defenders of the fortress were killed almost to a man, largely by African soldiery.[8]

Anglo-Zulu War

Even though an independent commission had adjudged in 1878 that most of the Zulu claims to border territories were justified, the repeated infractions and raids that were either perpetrated or provoked by the Zulu subjects of Cetshwayo led to a decision by the British commissioner in the area, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, to finally reduce the independence of the Zulu Kingdom. He demanded a complete disarmament on the part of the Zulus and the imposition of a British residency. When Cetshwayo ignored this demand, British forces invaded Zululand in January 1879. After an initial British defeat in the Battle of Isandlwana, reinforcements ensured British victory in the Battle of Ulundi, after which most of the Zulu chiefs sought peace. Cetshwayo became a fugitive and was eventually captured and imprisoned in Cape Town.[2]

South African order of precedence

Until 5 April 1952 the position of the South Africa Medal (1880) in the official order of precedence was prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. With effect from 6 April 1952 these awards continued to be worn in the same order of precedence but, with the exception of the Victoria Cross, took precedence after all South African orders, decorations and medals awarded to South Africans on or after that date.[9][10][11]

South Africa Medal (1854) South Africa Medal (1880) Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal


The medal was struck in silver and is a disk, 36 millimetres in diameter, with a swivelling suspender.[3]


The medal's obverse displays the diademed head of Queen Victoria, facing left. The medal is inscribed "VICTORIA" at left and "REGINA" at right around the perimeter.[1]


The reverse shows a crouching lion on a plinth in front of a protea bush with a single flower. The medal is inscribed "SOUTH AFRICA" around the top perimeter and has a military trophy consisting of a Zulu ox-hide shield and four crossed assegais in the exergue.[1]


Seven clasps were awarded, respectively inscribed as shown below, to recipients who had served in a campaign in the year or each of the years as denoted on the clasp.[3]

  • "1877" – 153 clasps were awarded.
  • "1877-8" – 5,822 clasps were awarded.
  • "1877-8-9" – 3,525 clasps were awarded to recipients who had qualifying service in all three years.
  • "1877-9" – Eight clasps were awarded to recipients who had qualifying service in 1877 and 1879, with no service in 1878.
  • "1878" – 2,009 clasps were awarded.
  • "1878-9" – 1,185 clasps were awarded.
  • "1879" – 18,332 clasps were awarded.

The ribbon is identical to that of the South Africa Medal (1854), 32 millimetres wide with a 2½ millimetres wide golden yellow band, a 4 millimetres wide blue band, a 3 millimetres wide golden yellow band and a 1 millimetre wide blue band, repeated in reverse order and separated by an 11 millimetres wide golden yellow band.


A total of 37,144 medals were awarded, of which 5,610 were awarded without a clasp. In respect of service during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, any members of the military who had been mobilized in Natal but who had not crossed the Tugela River into Zululand, received the medal without a clasp. This included Naval shore parties. Since fighting was confined to the northern side of the Tugela, the no-clasp-medals are frequently viewed as non-combat awards.[1][3]

See also


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