Economic Profile

iLembe is located immediately to the north of the metropolitan area of eThekwini and to the south of the uThungulu District Municipality. It is strategically placed between the two major harbours of South Africa in eThekwini (Durban Harbour) and uMhlathuze Municipality (Richards Bay Harbour), which is the highest priority development corridor in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. iLembe Municipality is dissected by the N2 national highway running from Durban up through Richards Bay to Swaziland and Mozambique. The district is also located within 10 kilometres of the newly developed King Shaka Airport and Dube Trade Port that will connect the province directly to international markets.


This sector is characterised by two main distinct types:

  • Commercial agriculture, such as  sugar cane farming along the coastal strip
  • Subsistence agriculture in the rural hinterland and inland areas

The sugar industry makes an important contribution to the local and national economy, given its industrial and agricultural investment, foreign exchange earnings and high employment linkages with major suppliers, support industries and customers. It also makes an important contribution to direct employment in cane production and processing, and provides indirect employment for numerous support industries. Supporting agricultural activities include forestry, fruit and vegetable farming, tunnel farming, and fresh cut flowers. The National Schools Nutrition Programme with the Department of Education has seen a significant increase in agricultural activity targeting local co-operatives and small scale farmers not just in iLembe District but across the KwaZulu-Natal province.


This sector is mainly characterised by the following types of industries:

  • Primary sector comprises of heavy industries, such as sugar and paper mill production in the Isithebe Industrial Estate in Mandeni
  • Secondary sector activities include light industries that are prevalent throughout the district and with a focus on the rural areas of the district.

The manufacturing sector is clustered in Isithebe and is surrounded by informal settlements created by employment opportunities within the area. The manufacturing sector processes raw materials into finished products such as paper, clothing, furniture and electrical appliances. The sector comprises of heavy industries such as sugar and paper mills. The Compensation/Ballito area north of the new King Shaka International Airport has been identified as a special economic opportunity zone. Several light industrial parks such as Imbonini offer high quality mini – factories and stand-alone factory ware- house developments for lease or purchase.


This sector has consistently grown in iLembe and offers a variety of tourism facilities that can be categorised as follows:

  • Cultural and heritage tourism
  • Beach tourism
  • Nature-based tourism

The primary factors that attract tourists to the area are its beaches, estuaries and natural resources which include the Harold Johnson Nature Reserve and the Ingwenya Nature Reserve, and numerous historical battle sites.  Mandeni Municipality has a rich historical past, which presents major opportunities for tourism development in the area. The Tugela (correctly spelt Thukela) River is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal, and was the historical border between Zululand and Natal. A number of significant historical events associated with the river have left a rich legacy of major historical and cultural sites.

The coastal area of the Mandeni Local Municipality is characterised by a diversity of habitats, which include the marine component, pristine sandy beaches, a prograding dune system with several vegetation stages, coastal wetlands, estuarine and freshwater systems, coastal grassland and bush thickets, coastal forest, climax dune forest, riverine and swamp forest.

Commerce & Services

This sector includes the following sub sectors and is found in all the main urban centres throughout the district with specific reference to the towns of KwaDukuza and Ballito:

Wholesale / retail trade
Transport / storage
Financial / insurance
Real estate
Business / Community / social / personal
Government services

Renewable Energy

iLembe has also been identified as the renewable energy hub in the province. The renewable energy components manufacturing hub is one of the sectorial development hubs in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Each district is targeted to house an industrial hub to support the provincial industrial development zones based on its comparative advantage. The envisaged location for the hub is within Isithebe Industrial Estate in Mandeni, on a serviced 50 ha piece of land. The targeted markets for the hub will be, among others, green industry project developers, manufacturers, energy services companies, consultancies, SMMEs, cooperatives, youth enterprises, research institutions, test laboratories, training providers and engineering companies. Related investments will thus be necessitated by the renewable hub project in the district as informed by the targeted markets.

The recently completed iLembe District Growth and Development Plan has also identified some catalytic projects that will have a bearing on the type and scale of investment to support these catalytic projects. Catalytic projects are defined as large-scale development projects, which have potential to directly stimulate and leverage much higher levels of development and initiate further projects. These projects can be read in the iLembe District and Growth and Development Plan accessible on