The North Coast carries with it a strong history and we are honoured to live here, every day in the shadows of these great heroes and pioneers.
When President Nelson Mandela officially renamed the Dolphin Coast’s commercial rallying point, adding a significant Zulu title to the town’s existing colonial moniker, our rich and intricate history was finally afforded its deserved recognition. For the town of Stanger – named after the first Surveyor-General to the province and proclaimed a magisterial seat in 1873 – was built on the site of dynastic King Shaka’s crowning glory and final resting place. This was the royal settlement he called ‘Dukuza’ to proclaim the ‘maze’ of several thousand huts encircling his enormous regal dwelling. KwaDukuza-Stanger and its immediate environs offer today’s visitor fascinating insights into our region’s formative processes.
Between his coronation in 1816 and construction of Dukuza in the mid- to late 1820’s, King Shaka and his army of fearless footsoldiers traversed the length and breadth of modern-day KwaZulu-Natal province, subjugating all in their path with the king’s innovative new weaponry and battle-strategies. Gone were the throwing- spear and small shield of his forefathers – standard issue during three centuries’ of inter-clan warfare – replaced by the stabbing- spear and full-length body-shield. These were designed to facilitate Shaka’s lethal new concept – encircling his enemy with a horn- shaped pincer movement and engaging in highly effective hand-to-hand combat.
King Shaka ordered the construction of several, far-flung royal settlements and military camps during this consolidation of his Zulu empire – the ‘barracks’ at present-day Shakaskraal and Umhlali were built when the king moved into permanent residence at Dukuza following the death of his mother. It was she – Princess Nandi of the Elangeni clan – who bestowed on Shaka the name ‘Ilembe’ to praise the ‘wisdom and courage’ of her son the king. This shift of the ‘Royal Seat’ was prompted by Shaka’s declared fondness for the Dolphin Coast’s natural beauty, sweet drinking water and lush grazing, plus its close proximity to the white traders, settlers and colonial figureheads based at Port Natal, with whom the king had already established a working relationship. Elephant tusks, animal skins, meat and sea-salt were exchanged for cloth, beads and other trinkets.
Shaka Zulu also provided ‘safe passage’ for his white trading partners on their forays into the bush, and saw his diplomacy repaid when Henry Francis Fynn aided the king’s recovery from an assassination attempt at his northernmost settlement. Ironically, it was from the diaries of another white acquaintance – Nathaniel Isaacs – that details finally emerged of King Shaka’s death on September 22, 1828. Planned by a jealous aunt, the king’s demise had come at the hands of his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana, aided by a treacherous royal bodyguard. These three had feigned exhaustion to remain at Dukuza when Shaka dispatched his army to quell an uprising in the northern reaches of his kingdom. Dingane immediately eliminated his accomplices, declared himself the new Zulu King and moved his people back north leaving Dukuza to the bush and wild animals. Fifty years after King Shaka’s murder, the Anglo- Zulu War finally erupted near Dukuza, and important reminders of this conflict are today encompassed within the much-visited Harold Johnson Nature Reserve.
Many streets and buildings in Port Natal – now the thriving harbour- metropolis of Durban – were subsequently named after King Shaka’s colonial associates, and South Africans believed it most appropriate when Nelson Mandela revived the name Dukuza from the annals of history to a living honour for the Dolphin Coast. President Mandela was not the first Nobel Peace laureate to grace our part of the country. Between KwaDukuza-Stanger and Shakaskraal lies the former mission station of Groutville, home and burial place of South Africa’s first-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chief Albert Luthuli. This renowned educator received the accolade in 1960, for seeking a non-violent solution to our country’s racial inequalities and attendant conflicts. Widely respected and honoured abroad, but routinely silenced at home, Chief Luthuli was elected President- General of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) in 1952. He guided the ANC through that turbulent decade authored the internationally acclaimed Let My People Go in 1962, and died in 1967 while serving yet another banning order.
As traditional leader of the local populace and dedicated to their economic upliftment, Chief Luthuli encouraged his people to engage in sugar farming, an industry which had begun physically reshaping the coastal belt in the mid-19th century. Edmond Morewood pioneered the South African sugar industry in 1851, growing the first commercial cane at Compensation, just south of Umhlali, and refining the sugar at his rudimentary mill. After failing to secure expansion- finance, Morewood departed our shores never to return, his memory lost for a hundred years until rediscovered by latter- day ‘sugar barons’ of the area. The Dolphin Coast’s panoramic fields of ‘green gold’ waving in the gentle sea-breeze, and the quaint, informative ‘sugar village’ of Umhlali, bear witness to the prophetic nature of Morewood’s vision.
Before he sailed though, Morewood imparted to colonial authorities information that also had a profound effect on the Kingdom of the Zulu – indentured labour from India. From the outset, Zulus had shown unwillingness to become farm labourers, and as the practice of importing field hands was already operational in Ceylon and Mauritius, the government of India soon received letters of request from this country too. The first few hundred Indian families disembarked at Port Natal on November 17, 1860 journeying north by ox- wagon to those farms that had applied for labour. By 1911, when the scheme was abolished, their number had risen to well over a hundred thousand. Many Indians chose not to leave when their contracts expired, exchanging return passage for money or land. They were soon joined by entrepreneurs from the sub-continent, who arrived on their own initiative at this new frontier of opportunity. Culturally and economically, Indian influence flourishes throughout our Kingdom of the Zulu, not least along the Dolphin Coast. KwaDukuza-Stanger in particular, has a distinctly Eastern feel to its bustling central business district, and Shakaskraal closely resembles many a hamlet in rural India…transported into the heart of Africa!
While decades of legally entrenched racial segregation denied equal access to the fruits of our inimitable heritage, the long- sought demise of apartheid finally witnessed the Dolphin Coast’s dynamic potential reach full bloom. Built around the legend and image of ‘Ilembe’ – the ‘wise and powerful’ King Shaka – our regional authority’s title and coat-of-arms pay homage to the vibrant landscape and diverse cultural origins of today’s unique and fascinating Dolphin Coast experience. We look forward to sharing with you our insights, hospitality and all the ingredients of a stirring South African adventure!