History of KwaZulu-Natal


KwaZulu-Natal is a province of South Africa, with an area of 86 967 sq kilometres.

It is bounded by Lesotho, which is known as the mountain kingdom, Gauteng Province (west), by Swaziland and Mozambique (North), and by the Indian Ocean (East).

Its capital is Pietermaritzburg. Although only sixth in size, it is the most populous of all the nine Provinces of South Africa.


During the past four centuries, many thousands of people from Britain and Europe have left their homes and sailed across the oceans, in order to make new homes in other countries, including South Africa.  Many immigrants have come to this country.  In the days of Simon van der Stel, the French Huguenots settled at the Cape.  When the British occupied the Cape for the second time, in 1806, the European population of the Cape Colony was about 40,000.  By 1819 about 4,000 British were at the Cape.  The Dutch, by this time, numbered about 43,000.  During the next two years the British population was doubled.

In l820, about 4,000 British settlers arrived at the Cape.  They were accustomed to freedom of speech and criticized the government because of the way the emigration scheme had been handled.  It was partly because of the settlers' complaints that the British government investigated their grievances.  The settlers had a great influence on the development of the country.

History KwaZulu-Natal

A serious shortage of land developed, because both Europeans and Africans were cattle farmers and required extensive grazing lands.  Quarrels arose over the possession of land on the Cape frontier, and many wars were fought between the Africans and Europeans.

Pressure on the frontier increased as the Xhosa were being pushed from behind, but at the same time, they were unable to move forward, because of the pressure of the European farmers, while the frontier farmers formed commandos and rode off into African territory, in search of cattle which had been lost.

Many frontier farmers began to think that there would never be peace and safety on the frontier.  The result was that many farmers decided to leave the Colony and go on trek.

Many of the farmers relied on African slave labour.  The English and French also entered the slave trade.   In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a movement to have slavery abolished began.  Slave owners were angry when these laws were applied in the Cape Colony, as they thought the laws were unnecessary and an interference with private property.  Finally, in August 1833, the British parliament passed an Act abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire.

The slave owners in the Colony suffered many hardships, as the loss of so much money was a serious blow to a poor colony.  The farmers also feared that the liberation of thousands of slaves would increase lawlessness and idleness, and that there would be a shortage of labour on the farms.  Many frontier farmers were so indignant that they decided to trek from the Colony.  Piet Retief published their grievances in the Grahamstown Journal, on the 2.2.1837.

Settlers - History KwaZulu-Natal

In Natal, the first settlement on the shores of Durban Bay was established in 1824 when two Englishmen, Lieutenants Farewell and King, obtained a grant of land from the Zulu king Shaka.  Soon other Englishmen arrived and started to trade in ivory.  In 1835 an ex naval officer, Captain Gardiner, settled at Port Natal to do missionary work, and in the same year, the town of Durban was founded.  Gardiner persuaded Dingaan, who became chief of the Zulus in 1828, to allow another missionary, Rev. Francis Owen, to establish a mission station near the kraal called Umgungundhlovu.

The British navy surveyed the whole coast as far as Delagoa Bay, and this aroused the interest of trading companies of the Cape Colony in the possibilities of trading with the area Natal.  The first two traders on the scene were Lieutenants James Saunders King and Francis Farewell, who had served in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars.  King found sanctuary in the bay in1822 and charted it, before sailing for the Cape.

In 1824, Farewell, accompanied by Henry Francis Fynn and several other adventurers, sailed for Natal in two vessels. They hoped to trade with the Zulu people. Fynn became a favourite with Shaka, as he had knowledge of medicine and attended to one of Shaka's battle wounds.  Shaka was so grateful, that on 7 August 1825 he granted to Farewell and his followers, all the land around Port Natal and extending a hundred miles inland.

The settlers at the port were then able to commence the trade in ivory, skins and gum, which was the beginning of the great commercial city of Durban.  Meanwhile, the ivory traders were exploring the country to the south of Port Natal.

The settlers had also been building their huts of wattle and daub with thatched roofs and reed doors.  The traders were able to enjoy wild fruits and bananas, which grew well in this climate. Farewell's wife, Elizabeth, who had been separated from her husband for two and a half years, arrived at the port.  She was the first European woman to settle in Natal.

Shaka was assassinated by Dingaan, who became then king of the Zulu people.  Francis Farewell was the founder of the settlement in Natal.  Natal was attracting attention in the Colony and new men began to appear on the scene.  Dr. Andrew Smith, a military surgeon at the Cape, reported with enthusiasm, about the opportunities offered by Natal, and consequently, many Cape Town inhabitants petitioned the government in favour of the occupation of Natal.

Early in 1835, Captain Allen Francis Gardiner established a mission station on the ridge overlooking the Bay.  He called his station Berea, a name which this area of Durban still bears, as a suburb. Gardiner was responsible for the calling of a public meeting on 23 June 1835, for the purpose of organizing the settlement.  When a suitable place had been found, the settlers were each given a plot of ground, on condition that they built decent houses, of a certain size.  Land was also set aside for the building of a church, a school and a market place.  Gardiner suggested that the new town should be named Durban in honour or the governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin D'Urban.

Meanwhile, one of the Voortrekkers, Piet Retief, who had left the Cape in 1837 arrived in Natal and received a warm welcome from the few British settlers at Port Natal.  He sent a letter of greetings to Dingaan, telling him of his wish to visit the royal kraal, to discuss the question of land.

Dingaan was willing to grant the Trekkers land, on condition that certain cattle stolen by another chief were restored.  This Retief did.  Dingaan was becoming afraid of the Boers, with their firearms and horses. Retief returned to the royal kraal to make final arrangements about the land.  Dingaan killed Retief and his men.  The Zulu Impis were sent out to attack the rest of the Trekkers, who were spread out along the various rivers near the present towns of Escourt, Weenen and Colenso.   After these attacks, some of the Trekkers left Natal and settled in Potchefstroom.  The Zulu warriors then attacked Durban, the British there being forced to take refuge in a ship anchored in the bay.

In November 1838, the last of the Voortrekker leaders to leave the Colony, Andries Pretorius, arrived.  Pretorius gathered together a commando of 464 men and travelled into Zululand. About a week later, the commando occupied a position on the banks of a river, which was later called Blood River.  On the 16 December, about 10,000 Zulu stormed the laager, wave after wave, but the gunfire of the Voortrekkers mowed them down as they rushed at the wagons. The Zulu withdrew. The position of the Boers was strengthened when Panda, a half brother of Dingaan, joined the Boers. They inflicted another severe defeat on the Zulu king, who fled into Swaziland and was later killed by the Swazis.  The Voortrekkers then established the Republic of Natal, with the capital at Pietermaritzburg.

The Republic Of Natal

After the defeat of the Zulus by the Afrikaaners, at Blood River, the Afrikaaners established the Republic of Natal. When Natal was annexed by the British in 1843, many of the Afrikaner inhabitants left for the interior and were replaced by the immigrants mainly from Britain.

The republic stretched from the Tugela to the Umzimvubu  River in the south.  There were three districts: Pietermaritzburg, Port Natal and Weenen.  They elected a Volksraad, a law making body.  Andries Pretorius was made the Commandant General of the republic, and was still regarded as the leader of the people.  The Republic of Natal only lasted three years, for in May 1843, Britain annexed the territory and made it a British colony. Resulting from reports reached in Cape Town, that the relationships between the Boers in Natal and the Africans were causing trouble, Sir George Napier, sent a force of 260 men under Captain T.C. Smith to the southern borders of Natal, to see what was happening.

The Boers, led by Pretorius, decided to force the British out of Natal.  They summoned the commando to come to their assistance from Winburg.  The Boers were encamped at a place called Congella, about 3 miles from the British camp, which was at a spot today known as the Old Fort.  The British camp was besieged.

Dick King, an English trader at the port, escaped from Port Natal, and rode to Grahamstown for reinforcements.  The siege lasted for almost a month. Then British reinforcements arrived at Port Natal, the Boers withdrew and in July 1842 the Volksraad surrendered.  About a year later Britain decided to annex Natal, and sent an official, Henry Cloete, to reach an agreement with the Voortrekkers.  They were not prepared to accept the British policy of equality between the Africans and the Europeans, or remain under British rule.  Many of the Voortrekkers immediately packed their wagons and re crossed the mountains.

The British took control in 1843, and the territory became part of the Cape Colony, subsequently reverting to separate colonial status in 1856. Zulu resistance was finally crushed by the British in 1879, and the colony was granted self government in 1893.  

During the South African Wars (Boer Wars), the colony was invaded by the Boer army, but reverted back to British rule in 1902, after the Boer defeat.  In 1910 Natal was incorporated into the newly created Union of South Africa.

The Arrival of Black Ethnic Tribes

No one knows with absolute certainty who the first "Homo Sapiens" inhabitants of the Eastern Coast of South Africa were, but it is widely agreed that this honour should go to the Bushmen or San people of the latter Stone Age era.

They left a legacy of   some of the finest rock art known to man, on the walls of the sandstone caves of the Drakensberg Mountains, right up to what is now Mpumalanga, as well as the central hinterland of this country, down to the Western Cape.

There are beautifully drawn galleries, depicting their lifestyle on these cave walls, but sadly there is no accurate record, apart from their art sites, of how large an area these primitive hunter gatherers occupied.

Black Ethic Tribes

Evidence of their rock art sites covers a vast area of South Africa, showing how large an area they actually inhabited when they were at the height of their culture.

They thrived in this invigorating climate, free of many of the tropical diseases like bilharzia and malaria, that were to beset later inhabitants of the lower lying coastal areas.

These San or Bushmen have vanished from this part of the land and the only record, apart from their art, that we have left, are the memories passed down by the early invaders who displaced them.

These first inhabitants appeared as phantoms to the newcomers and they were regarded with superstition, to be annihilated when found.

It is not certain who the new Bantu invaders were, but it was thought by the later Zulu speaking migrants, that they were an offshoot of the Karanga/ Rodzvi tribe, from what is now Zimbabwe, known as the Lala people. They were mainly splinter groups, who moved on after internecine fights, to seek sanctuary further south. Their appearance in this part of the world is accepted to have been in the 15th century and like the Bushmen, not much is known about them and even their language has all but disappeared.

It is only in the seventeenth century that more reliable and accurate records are available, of a new band of invaders, known as the Nguni after their leader.

Zulu History

Zulu History

The Nguni invaders, named after their legendary leader Nguni, came down from northern Central Africa, bringing with them cattle, which were not indigenous to Africa.

The Sahara Desert, in the north of Africa, was an almost impossible barrier for herdsman to cross with their livestock.

To the north of the Tropical Rain Forests and the Congo River, which was also a major barrier to migration from the North southwards, lay a fertile subtropical savannah, which was home to great numbers of pastoralists.

As their population numbers built up, they had to move from their land known as "eMbo" and find new land to occupy, but were faced with the Sahara in the north and the Tropical Rain Forests in the south. The only narrow way for them to move south was through the Rift Valley and the Lake belt of Eastern Africa.

They utilised this corridor and moved steadily south through what is now Mozambique, under their leader known as Dlamini. They stuck east of the 600mm line of rainfall and finally, after following the Lebombo(Swazi) Ubombo (Zulu) Range, they found what they thought was the ideal countryside to settle in.

Here the tribes dispersed and a leader, Ngwane, established himself in the Pongola River basin and founded what was to become the Swazi Nation.

Of importance to this province, is the trail of a chief of one of the small fragmentary tribes, called Malandela (The Follower).

Malandela, with his wives and followers, finally settled in a beautiful valley named after the river that flowed through it viz. uMhlatuze (The Powerful One).

Malandela had a son called Ntombhela, who had two sons, Qwabe, the eldest and his youngest son named Zulu (Heaven).

Zulu or Nkosinkulu then moved and settled in the eMakhosini Valley, on the banks of the uMpembene stream.

Here was born the Zulu Nation , that was to change the face of this part of Africa under King Shaka and rock the British Empire military power in the future, under Cetshwayo.

The Nguni, all with a common language base, spread right down to the Eastern Cape, to the land of the Xhosa and Pondos.

The Discovery Of The Natal Coast

There is a strong possibility that the first so called "civilised" visitors to the southern tip of Africa were the Phoenicians in 610 BC.

There is evidence that the Pharaoh Necho, sent these intrepid mariners on a three year trip around Africa, proceeding down the east coast, rounding the Cape and sailing north, up the west coast and back through the "Pillars of Hercules" across the Mediterranean and home.

Discovery of the Natal Coast

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama

Natal was named by the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, after rounding the Cape in 1497.

On December 25 of that year, he found his flotilla of four small ships, San Gabriel, San Rafael, Barrio, and a stores ship (which was later burnt), off the coast of South Africa and he named this stretch of coast line "Terra Natalis" after the birth of our Lord. There is no record of him landing.

We don’t know if he was observed by any of the inhabitants of the land and there is no mention in any African tradition, of this occurrence.

Early European Visitors

In 1575, as a result of numerous shipwrecks, the King of Portugal commissioned a surveyor A.Manuel. Perestrelo, to survey the eastern South African coastline, in order to find safe harbours for storm threatened ships.

There is not a record of him landing, however he must have replenished water and food supplies at some point.

He drew up the first reasonably accurate map of the Natal Coastline and it was he who fixed Natal as being the area between the Umtata River and the Tugela River. He named Durban as Ponta Pescaria and St Lucia as Lagoa Santa Lucia.

The following European visitors were survivours of some of the shipwrecks until the 1800 s when settlers started becoming interested in Natal.

1536: It is thought that Diogo Pereira, a Portuguese explorer, replenished supplies at Ponta de Pescaria (Port Natal) on his way to India.

Early European Visitors
Early European Visitors

1552:  Five hundred survivors including 300 slaves from the “San Joao” under Captain Manuel de Sousa de Sepulveda set off to walk from the Mtamvuma River to Mocambique, in July 1552. The remnants of this party (two hundred) arrived at Chief Nyaka’s kraal (After whom Inhaca Island is named) at Delagoa Bay in October 1552 and were hospitably received. After resting, they set off again for Mocambique and further up the coast they were attacked and stripped of everything, even their clothes.

Dona Leonor, de Sousa’s wife of great beauty, had a hole dug in the sand and buried herself there. Her husband and children died there as they would not leave without her.

Twenty two survivours reached Inhambane where they were ransomed by the natives, for beads valued at two pennies and three farthings per person.

Simon van der Stel, the governor of the Cape, had heard good reports of Natal and also requiring further information about the wrecked ship Stavenisse, he sent the “Noord” to search for survivors and also to explore the possibility of trade in Natal. On 5 January 1689 the “Noord” sailed into Rio de Natal and found survivors of the “Stavenisse”.

Capt Pieter Jan Timmerman, of the Noord, was sent back to Natal in November 1869, to purchase land from the local chief Inyangesi.

The deed of sale was signed for 1000 guilders worth of beads, iron  onger and other trade goods.

1685: Captain John Adams, who was a survivor of the "Good Hope" which ran aground near the Bluff and some other survivors salvaged material from the "Good Hope" and built a small ship, which they eventually sailed to Madagascar.

1686: The first mate of the "Good Hope", John Kingston, with four other survivors, combined efforts with Captain Kniff and some of the survivors of his ship the "Stavenisse", to build a small ship, which they sailed to Cape Town. This ship was apparently bought by Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape, for four hundred florins and named the "Centaur".

1689: Captain Timmerman of the "Noord" purchased Port Natal from a local chief.

1699: "Fidele" an English ship, left three of her crew members at Port Natal, to trade and never came back for them. It was found that six years later one crew member, Vaughan Goodwin, was still alive and living with two African wives and seven children.

The"Noord was wrecked near Algoa Bay on the way home and only four survivors made it back to Cape Town.

Much later, in 1705, when the Dutch sent Capt. Gerbrantzer of the "Postlooper" to make enquiries and verify the purchase of the land, they found the chief had died. His son repudiated the deal saying that he was not responsible for what his father had signed, so nothing came of that land purchase.

Port Natal became known to the Dutch East India Company sailors as "Engelsche Logie" (Englishman's Inn) because of so many survivors from wrecked British ships living there.

The British Settlement of Natal 1824

In 1822, Lieutenant James King, Captain of the "Salisbury", together with Lt. Francis George Farewell, both ex Royal Navy officers from the Napoleonic wars, were engaged in trade between the Cape and Delagoa Bay.

On a return trip to the Cape in 1823, they were caught in a very bad storm and decided to risk the Bar and anchor in the Bay of Natal. The crossing went off well and they found safe anchor from the storm.

Lt. King decided to map the Bay and named Salisbury and Farewell Islands.

In 1824, Lt. Farewell, together with a trading company called J.R.Thompson & Co. decided to open trade relations with Shaka, the Zulu King, and to establish a trading station at the Bay.

Henry Francis Fynn another trader at Delagoa Bay, was also involved in this venture.

Chart of Port Natal 1822

(Left: Chart of Port Natal 1822 by Capt James Saunders King)

Fynn sailed for The Bay of Natal on the brig "Julia" and Farewell followed six weeks later on the "Antelope". Between them, they had 26 possible settlers, but only 18 stayed.

On 7 August 1824 they concluded negotiations with King Shaka for a cession of land, including the Bay of Natal and land extending ten miles south of the Bay, twenty five miles north of the Bay and one hundred miles inland.
Farewell took possession of this grant on 7 August 1824, raised the Union Jack and fired a Royal Salute, which consisted of 4 cannon shots and twenty musket shots.

Of the original 18 would be settlers, only 6 remained and they can be regarded as the founder members of Port Natal, as a British settlement. These 6 were joined by Lt. James Saunders King and Nathaniel Isaacs in 1825.

The 18 who decided to stay were:

Buxman, J.Cane, Collins, Davids, De Bruin, F.G.Farewell, H.F.Fynn, T.Halstead, J.Hoffman, Jos. Hoffman, J.P.Hoffman, N.Isaacs, Johnstone, J.S.King, Nel, H.Ogle, Pieterson, J.Powell

The life appeared too lonely for some of these prospective settlers, so one month later on 7 September 1824, 9 people boarded the Julia and sailed back to Cape Town. On 9 December 1824, a further 11 people again boarded the Julia for the Cape, but unfortunately the Julia caught alight and sank and all passengers drowned.

The founders who remained behind were:

  • J.Cane killed at Ndondakasuka 1838
  • F.G.Farewell murdered at uMzimvubu River 1829
  • H.F.Fynn left Natal 1834 but returned as magistrate
  • T.Halstead Murdered with Piet Retief party 1838
  • H.Ogle married a Zulu and became a chief
  • J.Powell Died of malaria 1825
  • In 1825 two of the eighteen returned and settled
  • J.S.King Died in 1828
  • N.Isaacs left for St. Helena in 1831

Indian Indentured Labourers

From 1860 onward, increasing numbers of Indians entered KZN, to work as labourers in the sugar plantations on the coast. The colony was extended by successive acquisitions, notably that of Zululand (The area north of the Tugela River), which was added after the Zulu War of 1879, fought between the Zulu and the British. The lands north of the Buffalo River were added in 1902.

Indian Labourers


During the South African war (1899 to 1902) when the British fought the Boers, the Afrikaaner descendents of the Dutch settlers, Natal was invaded by the Boer Forces, who were checked by the British defence at Ladysmith.
In 1910 the colony became a province of the Union of South Africa and in 1961 the Republic.

KwaZulu-Natal Today

The 1980's and the 1990's witnessed a bitter, violent conflict between rival supporters of the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party, led by Chief Mangosutu Buthelezi. About 10,000 people were killed and the conflict impeded the province's economic development. Following the election of a democratic South African government, KwaZulu Natal became one of nine provinces, in May 1994. Chief Buthelezi became Minister of Home Affairs in the Government of National Unity. It is the only province with a monarchy explicitly provided for in the 1993 constitution, and the reigning Zulu king of KwaZulu Natal is Goodwill Zwelithini.

The provincial assembly and premier are elected for five  year terms, or until the next national election. Political parties are awarded assembly seats based on the percentage of votes that each party receives in the province, during the national elections. The assembly elects a premier, who then appoints the members of the executive council.

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