During the 1830s and early 1840s, the northern part of what is now KwaZulu-Natal was occupied by the Zulu Kingdom while the southern part was, briefly, the Boer republic of Natalia before becoming, in 1843, the British Colony of Natal. KwaZulu-Natal remained independent until 1879.
History of KwaZulu-Natal
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama saw the coast of Natal on Christmas Day 1497. Natal is the Portuguese word for Christmas which gave rise to the European name for the region. The area was occupied centuries ago by the Nguni branch of the Bantu.
The first European settlers, mostly British, established Port Natal, a trading post. They made almost no attempt to develop the interior, whose inhabitants had been decimated by the Zulu king, Shaka. The Afrikaner Voortrekkers entered the area via the Drakensberg passes in 1837. These Afrikaners defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838 and thereafter established the Republic of Natal. Thus, the territory was once part of a short-lived Boer republic between 1839 and 1843 until its annexation by Britain. Many Afrikaner inhabitants left for the interior after the annexation and were replaced by immigrants, mainly from Britain. From 1860 onward, increasing numbers of Indians were brought in by the British mainly to work in the sugar plantations on the coast. The colony acquired Zululand (the area north of the Tugela River) after the Zulu War of 1879. The lands north of the Buffalo River were added in 1902. Boer forces entered the area during the South African War (1899 to 1902) – also known as the second Boer War – and laid siege to Ladysmith. They failed to build on their initial advantage and for three months the line between the opposing forces followed the course of the Tugela River. In 1910, the colony became a province of the Union of South Africa and in 1961 of the Republic of South Africa.
When the homeland of KwaZulu, which means “Place of the Zulu” was re-incorporated into the Natal province after the end of apartheid in 1994, the province of Natal, which had existed between 1910 and 1994, was renamed KwaZulu-Natal. The province is home to the Zulu monarchy; the majority population and language of the province is Zulu. It is the only province in South Africa that has the name of its dominant ethnic group as part of its name.
The lion and wildebeest supporters are symbols of, respectively, KwaZulu and Natal, the regions joined to create KwaZulu-Natal. The zig-zag stripe represents the Drakensberg and the star the Zulu myth that the Zulu people are “star people” (“people of heaven”). The strelitzia flower on the shield symbolizes the province’s beauty, while the assegai and knobkierrie behind the shield represent protection and peace. The base of the crown element is a type of headdress traditionally worn by Zulu elders that represents wisdom and maturity; the element itself is a Zulu-style grass hut. The motto is Masisukume Sakhe, Zulu for “Let us stand up and build”.
At around 92,100 km2 in area, KwaZulu-Natal is roughly the size of Portugal. It has three different geographic areas. The lowland region along the Indian Ocean coast is extremely narrow in the south, widening in the northern part of the province, while the central Natal Midlands consists of an undulating hilly plateau rising toward the west. Two mountainous areas, the western Drakensberg Mountains and northern Lebombo Mountains form, respectively, a solid basalt wall rising over 3,000 m (9,800 ft) beside Lesotho border and low parallel ranges of ancient granite running southward from Swaziland. The area’s largest river, the Tugela, flows west to east across the center of the province.
The coastal regions typically have subtropical thickets and deeper ravines; steep slopes host some Afromontane Forest. The midlands have moist grasslands and isolated pockets of Afromontane Forest. The north has a primarily moist savanna habitat, whilst the Drakensberg region hosts mostly alpine grassland.
The province contains rich areas of biodiversity of a range of flora and fauna. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, along with uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and Ndumo, are wetlands of international importance for migratory species, and are designated as Ramsar sites. South Africa signed the 1971 Ramsar Convention to try to conserve and protect important wetlands because of their importance to habitats and numerous species.
The former Eastern Cape enclave of the town of Umzimkulu and its hinterland have been incorporated into KwaZulu-Natal following the 12th amendment of the Constitution of South Africa. The amendment also made other changes to the southern border of the province.
The northwesterly line of equal latitude and longitude traverses the province from the coast at Hibberdene (30°34′35″S 30°34′35″E) to northeast Lesotho.
The coastline is dotted with small towns, many of which serve as seasonal recreational hubs. The climate of the coastal areas is humid and subtropical, comparable to southern Florida in the United States, but not quite as hot and rainy in the summer. As one moves further north up the coast towards the border of Mozambique, the climate becomes almost purely tropical. North of Durban is locally referred to as “The North Coast”, while south is “The South Coast”. The Kwazulu-Natal Tourist board includes towns such as Margate, Port Shepstone, Scottburgh and Port Edward in its definition of the South Coast, while Ballito, Umhlanga and Salt Rock are North Coast resort towns.
Beaches of world-class quality are to be found along virtually every part of South Africa’s eastern seaboard, with some of the least-developed gems found in the far southern and far northern ends of the province. Marina Beach (and its adjoining resort San Lameer) was recognised in 2002 as a Blue Flag beach.
Some visitors come for the annual late autumn or early winter phenomenon on the KwaZulu-Natal coast of the “sardine run”. Referred to as “the greatest shoal on earth”, the sardine run occurs when millions of sardines migrate from their spawning grounds south of the southern tip of Africa northward along the Eastern Cape coastline toward KwaZulu-Natal. They follow a route close inshore, often resulting in many fish washing up on beaches. The huge shoal of tiny fish can stretch for many kilometres; it is preyed upon by thousands of predators, including game fish, sharks, dolphins and seabirds. Usually the shoals break up and the fish disappear into deeper water around Durban. Scientists have been unable to answer many questions surrounding this exceptional seasonal event.
The interior of the province consists largely of rolling hills from the Valley of a Thousand Hills to the Midlands. Their beauty has inspired literature. Alan Paton, in the novel Cry, the Beloved Country, wrote:
There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles (11 km) into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and Griqualand East.
KwaZulu-Natal has a varied yet verdant climate thanks to diverse, complex topography. Generally, the coast is subtropical with inland regions becoming progressively colder. Durban on the south coast has an annual rainfall of 1009 mm, with daytime maxima peaking from January to March at 28 °C (82 °F) with a minimum of 21 °C (70 °F), dropping to daytime highs from June to August of 23 °C (73 °F) with a minimum of 11 °C (52 °F). Temperature drops towards the hinterland, with Pietermaritzburg being similar in the summer, but much cooler in the winter. Ladysmith in the Tugela River Valley reaches 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer, but may drop below freezing point on winter evenings. The Drakensberg can experience heavy winter snow, with light snow occasionally experienced on the highest peaks in summer. The Zululand north coast has the warmest climate and highest humidity, supporting many sugar cane farms around Pongola.
Durban is a rapidly growing urban area and is by most measures the busiest port in Africa. A good railway network links the city to other areas of Southern Africa. Sugar refining is Durban’s main industry. Sheep, cattle, dairy, citrus fruits, corn, sorghum, cotton, bananas, and pineapples are also raised. There is an embryonic KwaZulu-Natal wine industry. Other industries (located mainly in and around Durban) include textile, clothing, chemicals, rubber, fertiliser, paper, vehicle assembly and food-processing plants, tanneries, and oil refineries. There are large aluminium-smelting plants at Richards Bay, on the north coast.
To the north, Newcastle is the province’s industrial powerhouse, with Mittal Steel South Africa (previously ISPAT/ISCOR) and the Karbochem synthetic rubber plant dominating the economy. In 2002, Newcastle became the largest producer of chrome chemicals in Africa with the completion of a chrome-chemical plant, a joint-venture project between Karbochem and German manufacturing giant Bayer. Other large operations include a diamond-cutting works, various heavy engineering concerns, the Natal Portland Cement (NPC) slagment cement factory, and the Newcastle Cogeneration Plant (old Ingagane Power Station). This was recommissioned as Africa’s first gas-fired power station by Independent Power Southern Africa (IPSA), and it supplies the Karbochem Plant with electricity. The textile industry is a major employer in the Newcastle area, with over 100 factories belonging to ethnic Taiwanese and Chinese industrialists. Maize, livestock and dairy farmers operate on the outskirts of the city. Coal is also mined in the Newcastle area. The province as a whole produces considerable amounts of coal (especially coke) and timber.
Offshore mining of heavy mineral sands including minerals with a concentration of significant economic importance at several locations, such as rutile, ilmenite and zircon are threatening the marine ecology of KwaZulu-Natal’s coast, including the Tugela Banks; the fishing economy of the prawn and nurse fisheries are also threatened.
About 86% of the population is Black African. During apartheid, a large percentage of native blacks was forced to live in Bantu homelands (Bantustans), which had a subsistence economy based on cattle raising and corn growing.
The Ingonyama Trust owns 32% of all the land in KwaZulu-Natal.
Kwazulu-Natal is a traveller’s dream and with the seemingly perpetual summer of our subtropical climate, it is not suprising that we are famous for our outdoor activities, beaches, natural environment, sporting events and the variety of adventure activities.
Two areas in KwaZulu-Natal have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park.
Ecology tourism is increasingly important to the economy of KwaZulu-Natal. The area’s rich biodiversity and efforts at conservation have been recognised. Tourists have come to see the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These two major parks and that of Ndumo have wetlands of international importance listed as Ramsar sites for conservation. Tourists pay up to $10,000 for safaris on which they might see lions, elephants and giraffes. Others come to hike in the mountains or explore the wetlands with guides.
12 Free things to do in KwaZulu-Natal
There’s plenty of free stuff to do in KwaZulu-Natal, with its warm Indian Ocean and subtropical climate. Visit a market, learn some history, take a meander through the Midlands, go hiking and birdwatching, or simply go for a walk by the seaside. Here are 12 things to do that won’t cost a cent.
Get a feel for India at the Durban Cultural and Documentation Centre
Trace the history of Durban’s Indian community at the Durban Cultural and Documentation Centre. Displays include cultural artefacts, paintings, culinary art, traditional clothing and jewellery.
Delve into Durban’s history at Francis Farewell Square
Head to Francis Farewell Square in the centre of Durban. This is where the city began as a tiny trading settlement in the early 19th century. The City Hall, on the south side, is a replica of the City Hall of Belfast, Ireland
Taste the East at Victoria Street Market
Wander through the bustling Victoria Street Market in Durban and feel as though you’ve been transported to the East. Incense wafts through the air, and 170 stalls selling fish, spices, scarves, baskets, ceramics will provide a morning of entertainment.
Meander the Midlands
Drive any one of the five beautiful routes that form the famous Midlands Meander, taking in natural and historical attractions as well as arts and crafts such as weaving, candle-making and wood carving
Wander through the Japanese Garden
At Durban’s Japanese Garden on Tinsley Road, take a peaceful stroll along cobbled pathways and over bridges that lead to oriental gardens, traditional koi ponds and frog statues. Stop at one of the temples that stand as viewpoints.
Visit the botanical gardens
Visit the beautiful Durban Botanical Gardens to see its impressive collection of orchids, palms and cycads.
Go birdwatching at Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary
Spot more than 150 birds at Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary while strolling along the 30-minute self-guided trail
Go hiking in Skyline Nature Reserve
Walk the trails in Skyline Nature Reserve, between Uvongo and Margate, and see the 40-year-old arboretum
Soak up some science at the Durban Natural Science Museum
Pop into Durban Natural Science Museum in the City Hall. The collections include one of the five most complete skeletons of the extinct dodo in the world and a 2 300-year-old Egyptian mummy
Take in the arts in Morningside
Browse the Morningside’s Artisan Contemporary Gallery, a showcase of South African art, sculptures, ceramic collectables, jewellery, fabrics and even cutlery
Stroll along the seaside
Walk the Golden Mile, the famous stretch from Vetchies Pier in the south, to the Suncoast Casino in the north.
Explore a swamp at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve
Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve is known for its black, red and white mangrove trees. Walking trails lead into the swamp and to the bird hide. Look for where you can spot the mangrove kingfisher and the swamp nightjar. Open on Saturdays and Sundays