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KZN: Investing in Umlazi

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South-Africa’s fourth-largest township and KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest, is a place with a strong sense of community

According to legend, the name Umlazi comes from “umlaza”, the Zulu word for the sour acid produced from fermented or sour milk. It is believed when King Shaka passed through the area, he refused to drink from the local river, claiming it had the taste of umlaza, and Umlazi was born.

Today Umlazi has been described as “a space plagued by poverty, unemployment and a range of social ills, but also a place with a strong sense of community”. The township is divided into 26 sections (A to Z but replacing I, O and X with AA, BB and CC) and, like many townships across South Africa’s urban centres, the past 20 years has brought with it significant public and private sector investments.

These include the construction of new shopping complexes, primary and secondary schools, universities of technology and libraries.

The township’s most popular road, the Mangosuthu Highway, links Umlazi residents to many of its sections and passes in front of the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT). Most sections across Umlazi have a government clinic and a police station, and the eThekwini Municipality revamped King Zwelithini Stadium and Umlazi Sports Hub ahead of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup.

Modern commercial developments are slowly taking shape within Umlazi. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Samport Travel owner Portia Mkhize says the facility now provides a recreational space for sports and social events, and also an environment where youth can be entertained away from crime-driven activities.

The neighbourhood boasts the Mega-Philani Shopping Centre, Umlazi Mega City Mall and KwaMnyandu Shopping Centre. While their construction was hailed as a symbol of change that brought national and international brands and retailers into the township and thus a historical shift from forcing residents to travel to the CBD for shopping, the reality has also been the impact these formal outlets have had on informal trade and smaller businesses.

Two years ago a R370 million revamp of Umlazi Mega City introduced another 19000m² of retail space to the centre and upgraded the ablution facilities. It is also introduced additional parking space and an enlarged taxi rank with ablution facilities.

Informal businesses abound across the township and operate from rugged stands, tables and/or converted containers to offer every aspect of life – fruit and vegetables, barber services, driving school education, mobile communication networks and shisanyama.

Businesses operating from containers are a common sight. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

There are also two further education training colleges, Umlazi Coastal College V and BB Campuses in addition to MUT. Despite the inherent poverty and unemployment levels in Umlazi, the neighbourhood has several schools that annually produce 100% matric pass rates and are upheld by the national department of education as icons of success.

These include Ogwini Comprehensive Technical High School, Umlazi Comprehensive Technical High School, Menzi High School, Velabahleke High School and Zwelibanzi High School.

Mkhize says tourism represents a growth industry for Umlazi with increasing numbers of residents offering home-stay and bed-and-breakfast accommodation on their properties.

A potential investment gap would be developing smaller retail space akin to strip-mall facilities as opportunities for entrepreneurs with businesses too large to continue from home-based facilities but not yet ready for large shopping centres.

There are various commercial property investment opportunities, albeit not advertised in the traditional manner found in CBDs or structured commercial zones. A sizeable shopping centre constituting 1200m² of mixed-use commercial and developmental activities including fast food outlets, a butchery and entertainment facilities, is on the market for R7.2m.

On the rental market, there is currently a 400m² space near a petrol station available for R63/m².

Shisanyama and social spaces are big business here

The upgraded Max’s Lifestyle Village. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Max’s Lifestyle Village

Max Mqadi had the vision to convert the original butchery and shisanyama outlet into one of South Africa’s top venues. What started life as a one-room shack near the stream and in front of the taxis has again been upgraded into an ultra-modern social space complete with an auto spa and private lounge. 

Musa’s Shisanyama and Restaurant Lifestyle

Fulfilling the market demand for a local shisanyama and social space, Musa’s Shisanyama and Restaurant Lifestyle provides residents with another space in which to unwind and interact.

Fulfilling the market demand for local shisanyama and social space, Musa’s Shisanyama and Restaurant Lifestyle provides residents with another space in which to unwind and interact. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Xolani’s Driving School

Xolani’s Driving School is one of three schools that partner with the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Umlazi to offer Code 8 and 10 driving lessons. 

New Day Clinic

The New Day Clinic is the first township-specialised medical centre which offers clients access to affordable, quality healthcare. The private healthcare company caters to the growing social problems facing township residents and tailor-makes packages to suit these needs. Among its services are an outpatient drug and alcohol detoxification unit, day admissions and a wellness centre for natural preventative care solutions and lifestyle guidance.

Manozi Bridal Boutique

Competing with national and international retailers in the multi-million-rand Umlazi Mega City, Manozi Bridal Boutique offers patrons unique solutions to their wedding dreams.

Van Dyck Floors

Established in 1948, Van Dyck Floors (previously Van Dyck Carpets) is South Africa’s oldest carpet manufacturer. Owned by PFE International, the shareholders have more than 40 years’ international experience in manufacturing carpets and fibre and yarn extrusion.

Investing in area with ready-made market

Not all commercial enterprises within Umlazi operate from formal structures. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Access to market

Home to more than 50 0000 people, formal and informal businesses have access to a readymade market. Transport routes Well-established transport infrastructure means access to and out of Umlazi is relatively simple. This includes private motor vehicles, taxis and rail with the township located close to the N2 south of Durban.

Social investment

Structural inequalities that previously prevented commercial development within townships meant local capital was never reinvested into the communities towards social and economic upliftment. Today establishing and operating a business in Umlazi ensures money earned in the community (or from work found elsewhere in the city) can be spent locally.


The reality of high unemployment and low skills levels means there is an abundance of labour available from which new investors can draw when establishing a business.

Live Work Play

Township life promises an opportunity to live, work and play within the same neighbourhood. Umlazi’s sheer size and expanse makes this a reality.


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