Discovering Life in Umlazi

King Shaka of the Zulu Nation is reputed to have given Umlazi its name

Far from the privileged world of quiet suburbia, the Table Bay hotel and koi fish accessories, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, is Umlazi – the biggest township in the province. In South Africa, Umlazi is the second to the biggest township that was once made up of several townships.

In 1967, Umlazi was formed by combining these smaller towns in order to create a “black township”. This was, of course, during the Apartheid period and the government at that time wanted segregation of race and skin colour. Many black people were moved to Umlazi and even after Apartheid, it became known as the “criminal capital of South Africa.” Sadly for Umlazi, it is having a hard time shaking off that title.

Nonetheless, visiting Umlazi is not what one would expect from a town that has supposedly has a lot of criminals. It’s a beautiful area where infrastructure has been developing at a comfortable pace since 1994.

The Legend of Umlazi

Even the name of the township has a legend regarding the origins of the name, and it is not favourable to the place or people of Umlazi. According to the story, when the great Zulu leader, King Shaka, was passing through, he came upon the local river. Since he was thirsty, he was offered a drink from the river which he promptly spat out claiming it tasted like “umlaza” which is a Zulu word for sour acid from fermented milk. Since then, the place has been called Umlazi.

The Geography and Attractions

Umlazi is situated in KwaZulu- Natal, southwest of Durban, and has 2 malls, medical facilities, a police station, hospitals, churches, restaurants, schools, museums, and a large sports stadium called The Zwelithini Stadium. The township is divided into 28 areas strangely named after the alphabet like AA, BB, and CC.

Many of the houses were originally nothing more than shacks but with the housing project of the government under President Zuma, RDP houses are replacing them. RDP houses are subsidized low-cost houses and are a major project for the president using alternative and affordable construction methods.

Umlazi is a good place to live in because of its rolling hills, natural green landscape, and rich soil. Life is very traditional in the sense that the food uses many African herbs, and sangomas and natural healers are very popular. The sense of community is also very strong and many locals are intent on changing the image of the township to a more positive one. In fact, you won’t be surprised to see young men and women sporting national replica soccer jerseys on occasions when national pride is at stake: the same pride is beginning to develop with regards to the township itself.

Traditional Healers of Umlazi

Sangomas and inyanga are the local terms for traditional South African healers. They are among the most respected men in a community because they are approached not just for healing but also for advice, political clout, and spiritual guidance.

These men are also in charge of conducting rituals like birth, marriage, death, protection, battle, fighting spirits, and making sure the tradition of African healing does not die. The difference between the sangomas and inyagas is that the sangomas are known as the diviners while the inyagas are the herbalists.

If you visit any of the markets or streets in Umlazi, you will come across vendors selling the herbs used by the healers. The healers can be found by asking the locals although it is advised that you ask more than one person for a recommendation.