Bushmen hunters were among the earliest people to explore the region, which offered them plenty of caves and rock shelters, clear waters, abundant firewood, and good hunting.
The bushmen were ejected by the Iron-Age Bantu who migrated down from central Africa in the early 1600s. They called themselves the Nguni after their leader, and they were followed by an even larger number of people speaking their same Nguni language. They decided the region was much to their liking. Worth fighting over, in fact, which their clans did with great energy. The Zulu clan under Shaka Zulu welded other Nguni clans together into what became the most impressive military force ever seen in Africa’s history to that time.
Generally, the people enjoyed a good life and were wealthy in terms of the cattle they owned.
Whites arrived in two ways. The Afrikaners trekked from the Cape and entered the region from the west. The English arrived at Port Natal (Durban) in the east. At first, there was little tension between black and white. But the Africans had no reason to work for the newcomers, so when sugar became important in the second half of the 1800s, the English imported labour from India. The Indian population grew quickly and by the 1890s outnumbered the whites in Natal.
The English soon soured relations between black and white by insisting the Zulus should give up their traditional military system. War followed in 1879, and after scoring a massive victory at Isandlwana, the Zulus soon lost too many men - at least 4000 - and too much heart to continue.
Twenty years later and war flared up again, this time between Afrikaner and British, and again the British suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of smaller and poorly trained forces, especially in Natal. The war dragged on for more than two years before the Afrikaners sued for peace. They ultimately had their revenge, however, by winning political mastery of the entire country, which was in their grips from 1948 through 1994, when the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela came to power.
Today it is fair to say that the Natal African is at the bottom of the Province’s economy and poorer than ever, apart from those few who have become enriched by the current political dispensation. The Indian community in KwaZulu-Natal, although victimised by apartheid, includes many of the wealthiest people in the country and still outnumbers the whites. As far as race relations are concerned, strong feelings simmer beneath the surface, especially between African and Indian. Indeed, contemporary Black musician Mbongeni Ngema wrote and record a song, AmaNdiya (the Indians), that was ultimately judged to be hate speech.
KwaZulu-Natal languages include English, Afrikaans, and isiZulu. In KwaZulu-Natal, English is mangled least by the English, more by the Indian, even more by the Afrikaner, and most by the African. You’ll find the Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_English on South African English well worth reading.
Most visitors to KwaZulu-Natal begin or end their journey at Durban.
If you’re flying in to Durban, book your rented car beforehand. If you’re arriving on a late flight, book Avis and ask them to keep their kiosk open until you arrive. They are happy to comply.
If you are driving to Durban from the Cape, the stretch through the Eastern Cape from East London onwards is hardly worth the bother and can be unsafe in and around Umtata. Better to drop off your rental at Port Elizabeth, fly to Durban, and rent again.
If you are driving from the Kruger Park to Durban, the N2 between Piet Retief and Pongola is often badly pot-holed. You might do better to travel by way of Middelburg, Ermelo, Volksrust, Ladysmith, and Pietermaritzburg.
If you are driving through Swaziland, cross into South Africa at Golela and get onto the N2 southbound.
Great lengths of the N2 (coast) and N3 (Johannesburg-Durban) are toll roads. You can pay at the toll plazas with a credit card, but cash may be wiser from the point of view of card fraud.
Hire a car. There are some long-distance bus services, between Durban and Johannesburg for example, but as with the rest of South Africa local public transport is not a good option for tourists. Africans get about on minibus taxis, but these run on set routes, are generally not roadworthy, and are very difficult to understand. You’ll find a couple of international car hire brands including Avis, and there are a few trustworthy local firms including Budget and Tempest. The bigger the name, the more likely you are to find a branch in the nearest town, which is important if you have problems with the vehicle.
Since the province has such a strong Indian heritage, it’s a good idea to try the local Indian restaurants. At Jaipur Palace in Durban, try the eat-all-you-like buffet and sample as many of the dishes that tempt you. Well worth it. At the other end of the culinary scale is bunny chow, a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with curry. Be careful - food hygiene may be poor where bunny chow is sold.
If you are staying at B&Bs, your hosts will know where you can get a good meal. The newer shopping malls generally have a good choice of reasonable eating places; most towns have international fast-food franchises.
The general South African safety rules apply in this province. A particular menace in KwaZulu-Natal is credit-card fraud. Keep your card in sight at all times, always check that the card returned to you is your card, and check your card statement when you get home. Some petrol stations are known to copy card details and make manual transactions against the card, so pay cash for petrol.