The province of KwaZulu-Natal is one that has seen a number of historic events and settlements, making it not only rich in natural biodiversity but also in history. Most of the western input started when British colonialists came here centuries ago to establish sugar cane plantations, worked by cheap labor imported from India. The area was proclaimed as a British colony in the year 1843.
Many battles and wars have been fought in the region, with power and influence changing hands several times. The area was first ruled by the Zulu tribe, made legendary by the famous King Shaka. It was subsequently shaped by the British into a part of the newly westernized world. Followed by a handover to the Boer Republic in 1910, the province was ruled by South Africa’s apartheid government between 1948 and 1994 and it eventually became part of the democratic South Africa we know today.
The province’s current name comes from a large homeland that existed here during the apartheid days, 'KwaZulu', and the province as it was then, 'Natal'. The cultural diversity that can be found here is greatly thanks to all the different groups of people that have established themselves here, whether as slaves, indentured laborers, natives or colonialists.
The varied geographical areas to which KwaZulu-Natal is home are protected in a number of national parks and private game reserves. The most notable of these are:
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve
This national wildlife park, situated in the north of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, was first established in 1895 as three different reserves before joining together in 1989. It is the oldest of its kind in Africa, and has been instrumental in bringing the rhino back from the brink of extinction.
This reserve is currently home to the Big Five as well as a large diversity of other mammal species. It is notable that Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is home to the world's largest population of white rhino. Birdlife in the area is abundant. The park is a favorite destination for ornithologists the world over. In addition to its wildlife, the area is also rich in historic sites and artifacts. Some are on display at Hilltop Camp and provide a glimpse into the area's past as a royal hunting ground for Zulu kings.
Ithala Game Reserve
Ithala Game Reserve is one of the younger reserves found in South Africa. Its formation started in the 1970’s when farms in the area were bought for this purpose. The landscape here is a rocky and mountainous one, with altitudes varying greatly between mountain tops and the valley of the Pongola River. Birdlife in the area is rich, with the most notable residents including a variety of different eagle, vulture and other large bird species like secretary birds. Mammals found here are mostly larger herbivores like giraffe and browsers that feed on the typical Lowveld treetops that fill most of the beautiful slopes here.
The great Drakensberg mountain range, the largest of its kind in Southern Africa, is the centerpiece and cornerstone of this park. The mountains between this part of South Africa and Lesotho are also collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many animals can be found here, even though the conditions are unlike most of the rest of South Africa, considering that only a handful of other places in Sub-Saharan Africa experience snow at any time of year. Klipspringer and reedbuck are some of the inhabitants that add to the natural splendor in the area.
uMkhuze Game Reserve
uMkhuze Game Reserve, with its rich biodiversity, is essentially a wonderful mix of a variety of different habitats that all suit the needs of different game species found within KwaZulu-Natal, to the south and to the north in Swaziland and Mozambique. Its close proximity to the coast endows the area with a high rainfall, providing abundant water sources able to sustain a higher density of animals than the Kruger National Park.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
This park is built around the stunning Lake St. Lucia which, in its prime, attracts birds from all around in an epic concentration of life. Many other water sources are also encapsulated by the protection of the park management. These include untainted white-sand beaches and rich ocean waters on the park’s coastal side, perfect for fresh water and ocean fishing for most of the year. The park gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999 after the rare oceanic life found off the coast and biodiversity here were first truly recognized and understood. Historically, this area was occupied by the Tsonga tribe, which owned most of the land from here to Maputo bay along the coast.
Many battles have been fought in KwaZulu-Natal, most notably those of the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars. The most famous are listed below:
This was one of the very first battles fought between the British Empire and the Zulu kingdom during the Anglo-Zulu War, in which the British invaded Zululand. This particular battle took place on the 22nd of January 1879, when some 20 000 Zulu soldiers were given orders to attack a portion of the British, made up of some 1 800 soldiers and civilians. The Zulus overcame the British despite being armed mostly with traditional weapons, which were supposed to be no match for the firepower the British brought along with them. The Zulu army lost around 1 000 soldiers that day, and more loss was to come their way as the British decided upon a more aggressive approach which would see them win the war and destroy the Zulu Kingdom.
This battle immediately succeeded the battle that took place at Isandlwana, and was also part of the Anglo-Zulu War here in South Africa. The battle again involved a Zulu attack upon the British, this time, however on the mission station of Rorke’s Drift, named after the former owner of the old trading post - James Rorke. This battle was one the British kept bragging rights to, as they successfully defended the station from between 3 000 and 4 000 Zulu soldiers that most probably also fought in the battle of Isandlwana. A mere 150 armed British men fended off the Zulus, who eventually retreated as they had been journeying for nearly a week by this time and had not eaten for the past two days.
This battle, between the ZAR and Orange Free State on one side and the British Empire on the other, took place between the 23rd and 24th of January 1900 along the Tugela River of modern day KwaZulu-Natal. It was one of the battles fought during the Second Boer War, and resulted in a Boer victory. The battle started when the British saw an opportunity to gain an advantage around Ladysmith, a British town taken over by Boer forces at the time. A group of only a few soldiers readied themselves and went for the hill during the evening, but were surprised to find a small group of Boers guarding or occupying the hilltop. As they got there, a battle broke out, and the Boers that could fled to the town to alert the rest of the danger. The battle was ended by the great number of Boers firing upon the British, which resulted in 1 300 casualties for the latter.
This is one of the most notable and iconic battles in South Africa’s history, and took place between an Andries Pretorius-led group of some 470 Voortrekkers and some 15 000 to 21 000 Zulu Soldiers near the Ncome River on the 16th of December 1838. The surprise of this battle was that the Boer Voortrekkers had outfought the Zulus, who had over 3000 casualties, while only suffering from light wound themselves. The Boers had achieved this in a very simple but effective way. As the Zulus approached them that evening, their wagons were set in a circle with all the families inside this barrier around a fire, to create a type of wagon fort. As the battle began with attacking Zulus, the men could shoot at them from the safety of their wagons. After a while, the Zulus retreated and the Boers woke up the following morning with the full image of the battle of the previous night - a very decisive battle won by the Voortrekkers.