The Garden Province

Much of KwaZulu-Natal’s colonial history rallies around this sub-tropical coastline’s splendid and strategic natural harbor that is today the busiest port on the African continent. The first inhabitants were however attracted by the fresh water and lush vegetation around the bay. There were a few groups of the ancient Lala tribe, displaced from their inland home territory by perpetual civil unrest. These people made a living by hunting, fishing with traps in the shallows, and planting crops.

The story of the origin of the name “Natal” goes back to Christmas Day of 1497, when the first Europeans arrived here. They were some storm-tossed Portuguese sailors. In honour of the day on which they sighted the land, their commander, Vasco da Gama, named it “terra do Natal” or ‘land of the Nativity’.

In November 1823 a party of traders from the Cape, led by James King and George Farewell, found their way here, in search of a suitable base from where they could trade with King Shaka. They sailed with their brig ‘Salisbury’ as far north as Lake St. Lucia. On their way back they discovere Port Natal. Assessing the potential they returned the following year under the leadership of Henry Francis Fynn. A settlement was built in the bush where the old railway station now stands. In 1838 the Voortrekkers arrived, defeated the impis of King Dingane and founded the republic of Natalia, which consisted of three districts, namely Port Natal, Pietermaritzburg and Weenen.

These developments alarmed Britain. Being afraid that Port Natal m,!ght fall into the hands of a rival colonial power, they intervened. The Republic of Natalia was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1842 and the Voortrekkers withdrew, returning to the Transvaal and Orange Free State.

Natal was opened to British settlers and free to develop into a separate colony, with its own unique demographic and economic identity. In 1910 the colony of Natal became a province of the Union of South Africa, a status that remained untouched with the 1994 constitutional changes.

This verdant and green province, which forms the East Coast of South Africa from Port Edward north to the Mozambique boundary, is aptly called South Africa’s garden province. It is a province with a sub-tropical coastline, sweeping Savannah in the east and the magnificent Drakensberg mountain range in the west. The warm Indian Ocean washing its beaches makes it the winter-holiday province of the country.

Uncertainty still exists as to whether the capital of the province will be Pietermaritzburg or Ulundi. A commission of inquiry into the location of the KwaZulu-Natal capital recommended in March 1995 that sittings rotate between Pietermaritzburg and Ulundi, until a final decision is reached. They seem to have settled on Pietermaritburg as the capital

KwaZulu-Natal was once the centre of the British colonial empire, hence the many buildings that are reminiscent of the Victorian era in Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The early Voortrekkers founded Pietermaritzburg as the capital of their republic. Durban is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the world. It boasts the busiest harbour in South Africa and is also one of the ten largest in the world. Some 1,3 million tourists visit Durban annually.

KwaZulu-Natal is the only province with a monarchy specially provided for in the 1993 Constitution, with Ulundi as its traditional capital.

Other important towns in the province include Richard’s Bay, an important coal export harbour, and coastal holiday resorts, such as Port Shepstone, Umhlanga Rocks, and Margate. In the interior, Eshowe is the hub of the sugarcane and forestry industries; Newcastle for steel production and coal mining; Estcourt for meat processing, and Ladysmith and Richmond for mixed agriculture.

The subtropical coastline of KwaZulu-Natal has some of South Africa’s best-protected indigenous coastal forests, for example: Dukuduku and Kosi Bay. It is also along this coast that the magnificent St Lucia Estuary and Kosi Bay Lakes are located. Separating KwaZulu• Natal from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the Drakensberg mountain range runs 200km along the western boundary of the province. The northern part of the province, south of the Swaziland border, is typical African Savannah and provides a natural backdrop for its rich wildlife.

KwaZulu-Natal is much more than a coastal holidaying destination. It also provides outstanding Eco-tourism opportunities. The Drakensberg mountain range, age-old home to the eland and the now extinct San people, draws a stream of visitors to its reserves of flower• decked foothills, trout streams, fearsome lava peaks, sparkling rivers and waterfalls. One of the oldest in South Africa is the Umfolozi Game Reserve, which is 270km north of Durban, and was proclaimed as a royal hunting ground by king Shaka of the Zulu people. It was here and in the nearby Hluhluwe Nature Reserve, that the Natal Parks Board launched its Operation Rhino some 20 years ago, which saved white rhino from extinction. Scenic hiking trails, wilderness adventures and African bushveld game viewing are on offer.

Some of the popular tourist destinations are the indigenous forests of Weza; the mangroves, palms and turtles of the coastal areas; the bushveld area of ltala; the water recreation at Midmar, the fever trees and impala of Mkuzi; the coral reefs and fishing of Sodwana; the magic of the Ngoye and Nkandla forests, or the Oribi Gorge near Port Shepstone.

The angling calendar of the Natal coast is varied. Barracuda, mussel-cracker, salmon, shad and skate are normally caught off the coast. The main event takes place between June and August when enormous shoals of sardines regularly appear. They annually migrate along the coast from the Cape to as far north as Durban and are accompanied by predators such as game fish, sharks and masses of birds.

The coast from Durban to Margate is known as the Strelitzia Coast and the area stretching from Umkomaas to Port Edward, as the Hibiscus Coast. It enjoys the reputation of being South Africa’s mos popular playground. During the July school holidays the Hibiscus Festival is held with street parades, beauty contests, beach entertainment and the South Coast show, which is staged at Port Shepstone as part of thereof.