An Introduction to KwaZulu-Natal

Physical Geography

South Africa lies at the southern tip of the African continent, between 220 and 350 south. Physically it is larger than Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Holland combined. The country is dominated by a plateau of over 1 200 meters and a narrow coastal belt washed by the cold Benguela current on the west and the warm Mozambique current on the east. It has a coastline of over 2 900 kilometres, from the Indian Ocean on its eastern shores to the Atlantic on the west. Within its borders, the large variety of climatic zones allow a wide diversity of plant and animal kingdoms to flourish. The province of KwaZulu-Natal, on the eastern side of the country, is bordered by the warm Indian Ocean to the east and the escarpment of the Drakensberg, separating it from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, to the west. It covers almost 8% of the country’s geographic area. The relatively low lying coastal strip rises to rolling hills in the Midlands before reaching the high altitudes of the mountains and escarpment. The province boasts two of the country’s major natural harbours at Durban and Richards Bay. It also boasts two World Heritage Sites – The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park.

Climate, Temperature and Rainfall

The wide expanse of surrounding ocean generally provides South Africa with a temperate climate, although weather patterns vary widely. The Cape has a Mediterranean climate with hot, sunny summers and cold, rainy winters, while for most of the rest of the country summer rains are the norm. Rainfall decreases westwards with about 1 000mm annually in KwaZulu-Natal, to less than 250mm in the west. South Africa is a dry country with an average annual rainfall of under 500mm. Summers are generally warm to hot with temperatures averaging 230, while winters rarely experience temperatures below 100. Only the high escarpment is regularly subject to snowfalls, and frost is a phenomenon which occurs only in the interior of the country. The interior has fewer than 80 days of rain a year with an average of 8,5 daily hours of sunshine. KwaZulu-Natal has a warm, sub-tropical, maritime climate, with temperatures moderated by the expanse of the Indian Ocean. Summers are hot and humid, averaging 280 and experience the majority of the annual rainfall, while winters, with average temperatures of 230, are warm, dry and clear with occasional frost in the interior. Winter sunshine averages almost 7 hours a day, some of the highest in the country. The province boasts an all-year tourism friendly climate. Sea temperatures are also relatively stable, averaging 210C around the year providing possibilities for a diversity of aquatic activities in any season, including diving, fishing, swimming, boating and surfing.

Rivers and Lakes

Although there are many rivers and lakes in the country, none of them are navigable due to the paucity of rainfall and lack of perennial snows. There are many man-made dams with resort facilities and in the north the natural lakes and estuaries of Maputaland and the St Lucia Wetland Park constitutes a world heritage site.

Due to the varied climate of the country, South Africa’s vegetation is one of the most diverse in the world, ranging from sub-tropical forest to desert scrub. South Africa is also the only country to contain an entire floral kingdom, the Cape fynbos, within is borders. KwaZulu-Natal’s vegetation varies from tropical and subtropical types at the coast, through rolling grasslands, to tundra types in the high Drakensberg. As the best- watered province, vegetation tends to be lush along the coastal strip. Enormous coastal forests are found on some of the highest sand dunes in the world along the coast north of Richards Bay.


South Africa is the world’s largest producer of gold, platinum, chromium, vanadium, manganese and alumino- silicates. Kimberley’s Big Hole, where diamonds were mined, is the largest hand-dug excavation on earth. The Western Deep Levels gold mine is the world’s deepest, at 3 777 meters. KwaZulu-Natal has an abundance of coal in the north of the province as well as a variety of other minerals, and the combination of its soils and climate make it ideal farming country. Sugar production within the province is a significant industry.


The province of KwaZulu-Natal offers a relaxed lifestyle, with access to virtually every major sporting, recreational and cultural facility. Sophisticated urban facilities, including music, art and theatre, are found close to the natural attractions of Africa, including game reserves, mountain scenery and endless beaches. As a whole, the province provides every possible resource for the tourist and is, indeed, geared for this industry.


The 1996 Census figures place the present South African population at 37,9 million. An update on Census data population figures, provided by Statistics South Africa for mid-2002, indicated that the population at that period was estimated at 45,5 million. The average population growth rate is 1,98%, although four provinces exceed this. KwaZulu- Natal’s growth rate is 1,66% per year according to Statistics South Africa (SSA). Also, within South Africa, the economically active population was estimated at 14,5 million as of mid-1995, although this figure is not to be relied upon too strongly. SSA’s latest figure for the economically active sector of the population of the country is 9,1 million (SSA 2000). Women outnumber men, particularly in rural areas, although the national male-female ratio is 48:51 (mid-2002, SSA). Functional urbanisation, including informal settlements around existing towns and cities, is approximately 52% for South Africa (mid-2002 estimates, SSA) and, according to SSA, 43% for KZN. KwaZulu-Natal has the largest population of South Africa’s nine provinces, at 9,2 million (2002), a figure which includes estimates of reductions due to HIV/AIDS. This is approximately 20,9% of the total South African population (BMR 2000). Of this total, approximately 1,6 million people in KwaZulu-Natal fall into the economically active category consisting of those aged between 15 and 65 years. Several general demographic trends have been identified for the country as a whole – continuing urbanisation, rapid population growth, and a youthful population. However, there has also has been a notable decrease in the work force as a result of an increase in the effect of HIV/AIDS, and the full effect of the pandemic has yet to be felt amongst the workforce. The largest proportion of HIV/AIDS deaths are being found to occur in KZN.

Political and Economic Profile, Socio-Economic Infrastructure

Almost a decade ago South Africa undertook a transition from minority to majority rule, with a fully democratic election taking place in April 1994 for the first time. Nelson Mandela, of the African National Congress, was elected President, and his party obtained a large majority (62,6%) of the votes. In the second democratic elections of the country in June 1999, the ANC again obtained a large majority and Thabo Mbeki was elected President. The national government is made up of a State President, a Deputy State President and a Cabinet representative of parties elected during national elections. There are two houses of Parliament, a National Assembly with 400 members, and a Senate with 10 members from each region. South Africa’s economy is based primarily on manufacturing, mining and agriculture although the contribution of financial services and business increased from about 12% to nearly 18% during the nineties (South Africa Yearbook 2000/01). The Government has also committed itself to disciplined fiscal and monetary policies and the pursuit of a mixed market economy. It is active in forging multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreements and in seeking regional and international linkages designed to promote the country’s development. South Africa is a signatory to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and efforts are being directed at increasing local industrial competitiveness. The USA has identified South Africa as being one of ten big emerging markets, and expects these ten markets to double their share of global GDP to 20% by 2010, and to increase their share of world exports to a figure greater than that of Japan and the EU combined. Since the 1994 elections, over R2 billion in foreign investment has flowed into South Africa. Foreign investor purchases on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange increased from R4 billion in 1992 to R12 billion in 1993 and R22,4 billion in 1994 (Ernst and Young, Strategic Trends 1995/6). This increased further to R60 billion in 1998 to more than R58 billion for the first three quarters of 1999. KwaZulu-Natal has until very recently been administered jointly from Pietermaritzburg and Ulundi. During 2002 Pietermaritzburg was decided upon as the sole administrative capital of the province. The province has a monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, the King of the Zulu nation. The provincial government is run by a Premier and 10 Cabinet Ministers who represent major parties which enjoyed success in provincial elections. The KwaZulu-Natal Regional Legislature consists of 81 members elected by voters in a system of proportional representation from regional party lists. In terms of Schedule 6 of Act 200 of 1983 (as amended) the province will have executive and legislative competence within its region over: agriculture, casinos, cultural affairs, education, environment, health services, housing, language policy, local government, nature conservation, police, provincial public media, public transport, regional planning, roads, road traffic regulations, tourism, trade and industrial promotion, traditional authorities, urban and rural development and welfare services. The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal is Mr. Lionel Mtshali, and the provincial cabinet ministers with their respective portfolios as of April 2003, are: Agriculture and Environmental Affairs: Mr. Dumisane Makhaya Economic Development and Tourism: Mr. Roger Burrows Education and Culture: Mr. Narend Singh Finance: Mr. Peter M Miller Health: Dr Zweli L Mkhize Housing: Rev Wilson Ngcobo Public Works: Rev Celani J Mthethwa Social Welfare and Population Development: Prince Gideon L Zulu Traditional and Local Government Affairs: iNkosi Bonga Mdletshe Transport: Mr. S’bu Ndebele Abundant natural and human resources have helped KwaZulu- Natal to build an extensive and modern infrastructure and a strong business and industrial base. Besides abundant water, other natural resources include extensive coal fields, a variety of strategic minerals, the cheapest electrical power in the world, and a vast array of important tourist resorts and attractions including some 500 kilometres of coastline. Business benefits include an excellent communications infrastructure, an abundance of labour, high standards of local management as well as good institutional capacity, which includes excellent banking, insurance and other services in the province. Schools are located throughout the province, while four universities have campuses in the region. Public libraries, technikons, teacher training colleges and other tertiary institutions can be found in several centres. The languages most widely used in KwaZulu-Natal are Zulu and English.

Economic Regions

The nine provinces show some marked differences, with highly skewed income and population profiles. South Africa had a per capita income of R18 203 in 1999 (South Africa Yearbook 2000/01). This had been reduced to R13 502 by 2000 (BMR). On a national population group basis, whites have the highest average per capita personal disposable income, of R50 804, followed by Asians with R25 541, coloureds with R12 690 and Africans with R7 567 (2000). The development process of the rapidly growing black middle class has been accelerated by recent political developments. The population benefited from real wage increases as well as a rise in employment and during 1995 real per capita disposable income rose by 0,3%, the first increase since 1988. The rate of increase in personal disposable income has not been able to keep up with spending, however, and combined with lower savings, implies that much of consumer spending is still being financed by credit (Economic Comment, 1996). Furthermore, a sharp decrease in the value of the Rand had a serious detrimental effect on disposable incomes nationwide in 2001 but there was some recovery during 2002.

KZN was reported as having an annual household income of R25 380 for 2000. On a district basis, Gauteng is the most important in economic terms, followed almost equally by the Durban Metropolitan Area and the Cape Peninsula. In 1997, South Africa had a work force of approximately 9,6 million. As specified earlier, this had decreased to 9,1 million by the end of 2000 (SSA). The total national household expenditure was estimated at R603,6 billion for 2000.

Economic Sector Overview

The KwaZulu-Natal Economy

Economic activities in KwaZulu-Natal are centred in the Durban-Pinetown metropole and Pietermaritzburg, with significant concentrations in the lower Umfolozi area (Richards Bay/Empangeni), Klip River district (Ladysmith – Emnambithi), and Newcastle/Madadeni region. The following table presents the share in total employment in 1995 and growth expectations in these areas:

Total Employment and Growth Expectations (1995)

                      Employment Share (%)      Growth 
Index (SA=100)
Pietermaritzburg      1,4                       100,9
Durban-Pinetown       7,6                       97,9
Lower Umfolozi        0,6                       
KlipRiver             0,5                       106,1
Newcastle - Madadeni  0,7                       104,4

Source: Bureau of Market Research

The following table presents various economic size and growth statistics for KwaZulu-Natal:

Size and Growth Statistics for KwaZulu-Natal

                               Value   Compound 
Annual       % of SA
 Employed Econ. Active
 Labor Force, 1999 (000)
                               2 184 (1988-1993) -
1,8%       19.3

Real KZN GDP, 2000            R72 bn (1988-1993) 1,1%     
Real KZN Income per capita,
2000                          R10 592              
Real KZN GDP per worker,
2000 (Mr.)                     32 967 (2000)    3,1%     

Source: CSS/BMR/S A Yearbook 2001/02/SARB

Over the period 1988 to 1993, KwaZulu-Natal outperformed South Africa as a whole on several aspects e.g., although the real growth in GGP for KwaZulu-Natal was only 0,1% per annum, the growth in GDP was -0,1% per annum for South Africa as a whole, over the period 1988 to 1993. Similarly, the growth in real GDP per capita and per worker, over this period, was –2,3% and 0,4% per annum respectively, for South Africa. The South African GDP settled at 1,7% in 1997 and remained at about the same point for 1998. From 1998 to 1999 there was slightly higher growth to 1,9% and the GDP growth for South Africa as a whole for 2000 showed real recovery and was 3,1%. Mr. Manuel’s Budget Speech in February 2003 indicated that GDP grew by 3% in 2002 and look set to increase on that during 2003. The following table presents some comparison between KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa of some economic indicators:

Indicator Statistics

KZN                          SA
Labour Force Participation 
Rate, 1994 (%)                 52,1                         
Labour Absorption 
Capacity, 1991 (%)             55,9                         
Unemployment Rate, (2000)(%)    
Personal Income to GDP,
1993 (%)                       60,9                         

Source: CSS, SA Yearbook 2000/2001

KwaZulu-Natal was second only to Gauteng in terms of percentage contribution to SA’s GDP:

Provincial Distribution of GDP 1998: R638 billion Gauteng 38%
KwaZulu-Natal 15%
Western Cape 14%
Eastern Cape 8%
Mpumalanga 8%
Free State 6%
North West 5%
Limpopo 4%
Northern Cape 2%
Source: Source: SARB 2002

Several studies have shown a positive growth trend for KwaZulu-Natal. KwaZulu-Natal is ranked fourth amongst the provinces in terms of growth in GDP over the periods 1997 – 1999, as the following table shows:

Average Annual % Increase in Provincial GDP (1991-1994)

PROVINCE         % INCREASE (1993-1994) (1991-1993)
Eastern Cape                 10,8        11,7
Free State                   10,7        10,3
Gauteng                      10,7        12,0
KwaZulu-Natal                10,8        11,4
Mpumalanga                   11,5        9,4
North-West                   12,1        10,6
Northern Cape                 9,5        11,1
Northern Province             9,0        11,4
Western Cape                 11,6        11,9

The National Productivity Institute (NPI) defines labour productivity as being the gross product at constant prices to the labour input. Studies have shown that KwaZulu – Natal’s labour productivity has improved since 1990, by a compound annual growth rate of approximately 2,0% per annum. Unit labour cost represents the cost of labour required to produce one unit of output. KwaZulu-Natal is ranked second in terms of increase in cost of labour since 1990, a compound annual increase amounting to some 13,2% per year. The ratio of capital to labour represents the ratio of fixed capital stock to labour input. It is therefore an indication of the change in capital intensity. Change in capital intensity for KwaZulu-Natal has been growing by about 3,8% per annum over the period 1990 to 1993. The figure below shows the relative 2003/2004 budgets of the nine regional governments. As befits the most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal heads the list with R32,2 billion allocated by the national treasury out of the R159 billion total.

Table 1.5 2003/2004 Regional Budgets (R bn)

N.Cape 3.8 Mpumalanga 11.1 Free State 10.7 North West 12.9 W. Cape 15 Limpopo 21 Gauteng 25.8 E. Cape 26.4 KZN 32.2

Table 1.6 Sectoral Contribution (Total GGP: R159 billion)

SECTOR                      GGP        % CONTRIBUTION
 Agriculture                R   2,8bn      5
 Mining                     R   1,1bn      2
 Manufacturing              R  19,8bn     36
 Electricity and Water      R   1,1bn      2
 Construction               R   2,2bn      4
 Commerce and Tourism       R  11,0bn       20
 Transport                  R   7,1bn       13
 Financial                  R   9,9bn       18
Source: CSS

The importance of tourism as a contributor to the GGP of KwaZulu-Natal is obvious, coming second only to manufacturing.

Tourism Notes

The KwaZulu-Natal region has a number of well defined tourism nodes in which tourism-specific development projects have been successful and new ones are encouraged. These are:

  • The Coastal Belt, divided into the North and South Coasts either side of Durban and Maputaland in the far north, bordering on Mozambique
  • The Drakensberg Mountains area backing onto the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, divided into the high Berg and the Little Berg or foothills
  • The Midlands and Battlefields
The Coastal Belt

in the Coastal Belt is based on the resources provided by kilometres of beaches, warm seas and abundant coastal vegetation. The northern sector contains the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, a declared World Heritage site based on the Lake St Lucia wetland and lake system, as well as a number of well-stocked game reserves run by KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife. It is well provided with transport routes in the form of freeways, national roads, toll roads and other smaller, tarred roads. The main road between Hluhluwe and Kosi Bay has been substantially upgraded and many other roads in the area will soon also be upgraded allowing easier access to the north east of the province. There are railway lines for passengers and freight running along both the north and south coasts, and inland following the national road to Pietermaritzburg, Mooi River, Estcourt and on to Johannesburg. There are a number of small airports and airstrips throughout the Coastal Belt and those located at Hluhluwe and Mkuze are about to be upgraded. Communications are excellent in this belt with telephone, cellular (mobile) phone, and satellite network services widespread. The Coastal Belt is also well provided with water and electricity supplies.

The Drakensberg Mountains

The Drakensberg Mountain area, the province’s second World Heritage Site, is easily accessible by road although many of the roads in the higher or more remote areas are not sealed. In some areas, use of 4 x 4 vehicles is advised. There are many small airfields and air strips throughout the area. The area is generally well provided with electricity, telephone and water services.

The Midlands and Battlefields

The Midlands provides a wealth of tourism resources based more on crafts, culture and history than is the case in the other areas. An area scenic rolling hills, it provides tourists with a wide range of possibilities, from game reserves, resorts based on dams, to tourism adventures such as the Battlefields Route based on the Anglo-Boer and Anglo- Zulu wars in the Battlefields area.


Zululand offers the mystique of the Zulu Kingdom with its rich history and wealth of culture. The Kingdom of Zululand and the associated monarchy draws people from all parts of the globe. Each area has a host of tourism trails for those who desire more than just a lazy seaside holiday. Arts and crafts trails including the popular Midlands Meander may be found throughout the province. KwaZulu-Natal also pioneered the Milescapes concept. These are essentially self-drive tours of up to 100 kilometres taking visitors to venues of particular interest to the north, south or west of Durban. Maps and route details are available from tourist information centres, and indicate points of interest from nature reserves, hotels, restaurants, craft centres to crocodile farms and art studios. The province has an international airport at Durban as well as numerous hardened/surfaced and grass light aircraft fields near most of the major population centres. A new international airport is being planned to the north of the city at La Mercy. Durban’s harbour is said to be the largest, busiest, safest and most sheltered harbour on the African continent, and the ninth largest in the world. Plans are at present afoot for major further development of the port. The harbour at Richards Bay, in the north of the province, is the country’s second busiest harbour.

Courtesy: Kwazulu Natal Tourism