Zululand is a culture-rich region in South Africa. Part of KwaZulu-Natal Province, the best way to get there is to travel overland from Durban. Why go there? In a nutshell, plenty of great reasons. Travellers can immerse themselves in cultural experiences, visit wildlife reserves, and absorb the fascinating and colourful history of the region, including the battlefields. Zululand is also known for its beautiful savanna-covered hills and stunning views.
The Zulu Cultural Experience
Someone once said that no culture is static, especially in Africa where traditional life is constantly under threat from modernization. While this is true, there are many rural areas of Zululand where cultural practices remain intact and sites of great cultural significance are offered to be explored. How to do this? One way is to visit one of the many cultural villages often referred to as “living museums.” At Shakaland, Dumazulu, or Simunye, it is still possible to get an idea of a slowly changing lifestyle and traditions. To get the most out of your cultural experience, you can sleep over in a traditional Zulu homestead, sample traditional Zulu cuisine and beer, and visit a traditional healer where you can learn about medicinal plants still being used by many rural South Africans. You can also simply drop in on a Zulu community village. Visitors are greeted with traditional Zulu hospitality and etiquette. Service invariably comes with a big smile from a people who enjoy showing off their heritage. You are sure to be entertained by Zulu men and women who love to dance and sing.
The Zulu people’s language is called isiZulu which is South Africa’s most widely spoken language. Many Zulus also speak several of South Africa’s eleven other official languages, including English and Afrikaans.
The Zulu people wear different types of clothing for different occasions. They may wear traditional tribal clothing for cultural events or ceremonies but otherwise, wear Western clothing for everyday use. Women dress according to their marital status. Single women will wear a short skirt usually made of grass and will also wear beautiful beadwork. An engaged woman covers her bosom with a decorative cloth, while married Zulu women wear clothing that covers their body completely.
Special events in the region include the Sangoma Khekhekhe’s Annual Snake Dance – usually attended by 1000 locals and held in February. Held in September are the King Shaka Day celebrations and the Zulu Reed Dance, when some 15,000 maidens congregate to dance for the current Zulu king. Most of October is taken up with the Prophet Shembe’s celebrations. On Sundays, some 30,000 people can participate in prayer dancing.
Suggested Day Tour:
The Bloody and Turbulent History of Zululand
The Zulu Kingdom, or Zulu Empire, was an independent monarchy in Southern Africa. The rise of the Zulu Empire under King Shaka (1816–1828) forced other chiefdoms and clans in the region to flee to other areas of Southern Africa. Shaka called his kingdom KwaZulu, which means “place of the people of heaven.” The kingdom now dominates much of what is today KwaZulu-Natal. However, in 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War, they were defeated by the British Empire, who they were in conflict with since the 1870s, despite an early Zulu victory in the war.
Initially, the British suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana where the Zulu army killed more than 1,000 British soldiers in a single day, prompting the British to retrench and renew their efforts. The British began winning victories culminating in the subsequent defeat of the Zulu Kingdom. The area was subsequently absorbed into the Colony of Natal and later became part of the Union of South Africa.
The Battlefields of Zululand
Northern KwaZulu-Natal is home to the largest concentration of battle sites in South Africa. Visited by military history enthusiasts from around the world, the sites are visitor-friendly and linked by the Battlefields Route. Zululand features several of these key towns, as well as dozens of battlefields and fortifications, museums, war graves, and memorials. The Zululand towns include Eshowe, Melmoth, Ulundi, Babanango, Vryheid, and Paulpietersburg.
The Wildlife in Zululand
There are many opportunities to visit game reserves in Zululand. Here are a few I have selected.
The Hluluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve: This is the oldest nature reserve in Africa, known for its rich wildlife and conservation efforts. The park is the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where all the “Big Five” game animals can be found. (The Big Five consist of the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo.) It has the largest population of white rhino in the world, and is home to 86 special species including the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, cheetah, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, nyala, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, common warthog, bush pig, mongoose, baboons, monkeys, a variety of tortoises, terrapins, snakes, and lizards. It is also home to 340 bird species.
The Zululand Rhino Reserve: This reserve was created in 1995 with a strategic partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and the property owners to provide a haven for the fast-dwindling black rhino population. This has resulted in the creation and preservation of a unique habitat that is fast disappearing in the rest of Africa. The black rhino is one of the ten most endangered mammals in the world. The Zululand Rhino Reserve has been declared an international site of ecological significance, not only due to the black rhino but also to the other unique species of birds, insects, and plants to be found in the reserve. The animal kingdom includes elephant, buffalo, giraffe, nyala, blue wildebeest, warthog, impala, kudu, and other smaller antelope.
Ithala Game Reserve: Close to the town of Louwsburg is the Ithala Game Reserve which offers prime game viewing and bird watching. It is nestled in the Ngotshe Mountains and has four of the Big Five, plus other African wildlife amid areas of great scenic beauty. This region was occupied by man for thousands of years and there are many sites reminiscent of these times, including Stone Age spears and axe heads dating back 20,000 years which have been found.
Phinda Private Game Reserve: This reserve is situated in prime conservation land with an abundance of wildlife including the Big Five and over 380 bird species. The marine diversity found off the nearby coast of Sodwana is said to rival the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. There are five lodges within the reserve.
Thanda Private Game Reserve: The Thanda Private Game Reserve is a 5-star safari lodge. The word Thanda means “love” in Zulu, and the reserve is a celebration to Zulu culture. In 2009, Thanda topped the list as the World’s Leading Luxury Lodge. It is situated near the ocean and the bush and offers safaris to see the Big Five. The black rhinoceros lives here today.
So, if you are interested in some or all of the reasons to visit this destination, such as dramatic scenery, cultural experiences, a glimpse into the history of South Africa, as well as an abundance of wildlife, then Zululand is for you!
Amazing and Diverse KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa