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KwaZulu-Natal- Shaka's Heaven on Earth

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The remarkable diversity of attractions of the KwaZulu-Natal region is unsurpassed in South Africa. It encompasses the splendid Drakensburg Mountains, sublime subtropical beaches, top rated nature and game reserves, historic battlefields, rolling green hills of the Natal Midlands and the city of Durban. The range of activities possible is a challenge even for those with the most eclectic of tastes: swimming, fishing, boating, scuba diving, hiking, abseiling, game viewing, cultural and historical touring, whale and bird watching and golfing.

Warmer and more authentic South Africa than the Cape Region, KwaZulu-Natal is the favourite holiday destination for locals. The region lies between the Drakensberg Mountains and Swaziland to the west; the Indian Ocean to the east stretching from Port Edward in the south to the Mozambique border in the north. As you transition from a subtropical to tropical environment, you encounter cool mountain ranges, savannah grassland, coral reefs, indigenous coastal forest and dunes, lakes and lagoons and papyrus wetlands. Here 9 million people occupy 92,000 sq km of some the fairest and best-watered lands in South Africa.

Little wonder that the Zulu, or "people of heaven" considered the area a heaven on earth indeed, and were extremely jealous of late comers who sought a share of it. And yet the Zulu people themselves had arrived only in the 16th century. Their ancestors, the Nguni, had been pushing southwards from the Great Lakes region for at least three thousand years. The land was inhabited- if you could use the term- by San Bushmen. This hunter-gatherer society was very sparing in its demands on the land. The arrival of the Nguni, a people with numerous cattle herds and great thirst for land, put the Bushman under great stress and severe disadvantage.

The Zulu derive directly from a clan head of the Nguni named "Heaven" or Zulu, who established a territory bearing his own name or KwaZulu in the Umfolozi valley. The Zulu was a fairly insignificant power, even among the Nguni, until the arrival of Shaka Zulu. Shaka, born in 1787, was first-born son to Chief Senzangakhona, but was considered illegitimate on account of a technicality. Shaka eventually corrected this injustice by plotting the death of his younger brother - the legitimate heir. He thus rose to be chief of his people when his father died in 1816.
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Shaka was a man gifted with great daring, cunning and imagination. He repulsed numerous attacks by the Ndwandwe- a rival and more militarily superior Nguni people, eventually forcing the enemy to flee northwards. Shaka appreciated that the Ndwandwe would be back unless he created conditions to make it impossible. Above all else a military leader, he devised such weaponry, battle tactics and training methods that resulted in an unbeatable army among known enemies of the day. By numerous treacherous devices -war, assassination, deceit and intimidation - he subdued smaller and larger clans, and gathered all to his realm.

Within three years to 1819, the Zulu nation emerged as the largest and most feared in the whole of southeastern Africa. And Shaka, now King Shaka, was sitting pretty as its head. His success had however caused unprecedented mayhem in the region, and aroused bitter jealousy amongst his ambitious compatriots. He also ruled with an iron fist and was such a tyrant as had never risen before among the Zulu. Shaka was speared to death by Dingane -his half brother, in 1824. The Zulu kingdom survived him, but his legacy was to be severely tested, later n the century in conflicts with new rivals - the British and Boers.

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The British had approached Shaka, shortly before his death, for trading rights in ivory and animal skins. Shaka signed a document granting them the chieftaincy of Port Natal, their small base on the east coast. In a very liberal and rather dishonest interpretation of Shaka's intentions, they claimed the Port Natal area in the name of the King of England. Port Natal is today known to most as Durban -and to locals as "Durbs". The city is the gateway and business hub of KwaZulu-Natal, and the logical starting point for exploring the region.Its port ranks among the world's top 10, and is the busiest on the African continent.

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