The garden province of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal is a subtropical region of lush and well-watered valleys, washed by the warm Indian Ocean. One of the country's most popular tourist destinations, the province stretches from Port Edward in the south to the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique to the north.
Its western part is marked by the dramatic Drakensberg mountain range, with several peaks well over 3 000 metres.
The range has been awarded Unesco World Heritage status for its dramatic natural beauty and the wealth of San Bushman rock art found in its caves – the richest concentration on the continent of Africa.
Between the mountains and the humid, subtropical coastline is savannah grassland, but there are also areas of indigenous forest along the coast.
The largest of its many rivers is the Thukela.
It is a summer rainfall area, with a climate that ranges from extremely hot along the coast in summer, to heavy snow on the mountains in winter. The Midlands are drier than the coast and can be very cold in winter. Durban, the seat of the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, is one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the world. Its harbour is one of the busiest in South Africa and one of the 10 largest in the world. Richards Bay is an important coal-export harbour.
The capital of KwaZulu-Natal is Pietermaritzburg.
The province has several popular coastal holiday resorts including Port Shepstone, Umhlanga and Margate. In the interior, Newcastle is well-known for steel production and coal-mining, Estcourt for meat processing, and Ladysmith and Richmond for mixed agriculture. The coastal belt yields sugar cane, wood, oranges, bananas, mangoes and other tropical fruit.
KwaZulu-Natal: quick facts
- Capital: Pietermaritzburg
- Major city: Durban
- Languages: 77.8% isiZulu, 13.2% English
- Population: 10 267 300 (2011)
- Share of South Africa's population: 19.8%
- Area: 94 361 square kilometres
- Share of South Africa's total land area: 7.7%
The land and its people
With a total area of 94 361 square kilometres, KwaZulu-Natal is roughly the size of Portugal. While it's the country's third-smallest province, taking up 7.7% of South Africa's land area, it has the second-largest population, with 10.3-million people.
The principal language is isiZulu, followed by English and Afrikaans. Remnants of British colonialism and a mix of Zulu, Indian and Afrikaans traditions give the province a rich cultural diversity.
KwaZulu-Natal has active conservation activities. The Royal Natal National Park, which forms part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, is home to more than 1 000 plant species, 12 species of antelope and three of the world's seven species of crane. Other reserves include Giant's Castle and the Kamberg Nature Reserve.
Some of South Africa's best-protected indigenous coastal forests are found along the subtropical coastline of KwaZulu-Natal, such as at Dukuduku and Kosi Bay. It is also along this coast that the magnificent iSimangaliso Wetland Park is found – along with the Drakensberg, one of KwaZulu-Natal's two Unesco World Heritage sites.
The northern part of the province, on the Swaziland border, is typical African savanna, providing a natural backdrop for its rich wildlife, protected in several game parks.
Richards Bay is the centre of operations for South Africa's aluminium industry. The Richards Bay Coal Terminal is instrumental in securing the country's position as the second-largest exporter of steam coal in the world. Richards Bay Minerals is the largest sand-mining and mineral-processing operation in the world.
The vehicle-manufacturing industry has created a considerable multiplier effect in component- and service-providers. The automotive leather industry has grown rapidly, with exports significantly increasing foreign exchange earnings.
KwaZulu-Natal has also recently undergone rapid industrialisation, thanks to its abundant water supply and labour resources. Industries are found at Newcastle, Ladysmith, Dundee, Richards Bay, Durban, Hammarsdale, Richmond, Pietermaritzburg and Mandeni.
The Dube Trade Port at La Mercy, 35 kilometres north of Durban, is a passenger and air freight hub that incorporates King Shaka International Airport; a state-of-the-art cargo terminal; a trade zone that houses freight-forwarding and air-cargo-related businesses; and an agrizone, a 20-hectare development for flower and vegetable production.
The fertility of the soil and comparatively good rainfall – more than 1 000mm a year – make agriculture central to the economy. The sugarcane plantations along the Indian Ocean coastal belt are the mainstay of KwaZulu-Natal's agriculture. The coastal belt is also a large producer of subtropical fruit, while the farmers in the hinterland concentrate on vegetable, dairy and stock-farming. Another major source of income is forestry, in the areas around Vryheid, Eshowe, Richmond, Harding and Ngome. Ngome also has tea plantations.Read more