The Norwegian Mission Society first established it in 1851 as a mission station. It takes its name from the river, a tributary of the Mhlatuze. The name is of Zulu origin, and the most popular meaning is ‘grab’ as it grabs people’s possessions as it comes down in flood.

It is one of Zululand’s larger towns and an agricultural centre for sugar, cotton, cattle and timber. In 1905 the first experimental eucalyptus plantations were planted and the success of this plantation was the start of large-scale .forestry along the coastal belt.

Empangeni is a junction on the main railway line from Durban to Swaziland, Nkwaleni and Richard’s Bay.