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Ulundi: A centre for the Zulu nation

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Ulundi has a rich historical and cultural background as home to the Zulu nation and there are tourism opportunities around the battlefields, game parks and birding locations in the area

Historically and culturally the centre of the Zulu nation and home to generations of Zulu kings, including the reigning Goodwill Zwelithini, Ulundi dates to September 1873, when Cetshwayo created a new capital.

He named it uluNdi, meaning “the high place”. The area has been the domain of Zulu royalty from King Shaka’s days, so its key historical value is its links to Zulu culture and heritage.

On July 4 in 1879 the Battle of Ulundi was the final conflict in the Anglo-Zulu War and saw the British defeat Cetshwayo, capture and raze his kraal and end Zulu independence.

Ulundi remained capital of Zululand and KwaZulu during the apartheid era and then alternated with Pietermaritzburg between 1994 and 2004 as the KwaZulu-Natal capital before the ANC-led provincial government declared Pietermaritzburg to be the capital.

The remnants of its legislative importance are today reflected in the three-star Garden Court Ulundi Hotel and the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Airport Ulundi, both formerly key pieces of infrastructure when the provincial legislature sat in the town. Zululand Tourism assistant tourism officer, Nhlanhla Shabalala, says today Ulundi’s premier investment opportunities are strategically linked to the tourism industry.

While the town is friendly and bustling with a growing economy, opportunities in the broader region linked to Zulu history are significant – including the Battle of Ulundi war memorial and the Valley of the Kings, where seven Zulu kings are buried within a 10km radius. Broader tourism infrastructure can be developed around the Anglo-Boer War battlefields across northern Zululand as well as wildlife with the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park less than 40km away.

The Battle of Ulundi War Memorial. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

“However, business is fragmented with information difficult to identify and people operating in a small-scale informal manner. There is a niche opportunity for tourism operators to package attractions around the battlefields, history, game parks, accommodation and birding,” he says.

The airport operates scheduled services between Joburg, Pietermaritzburg and Virginia Airport in Durban North, but Shabalala says there is room for expansion.

Leisure group Mantis Hotels and Ecoescapes has developed the upmarket Mthembu Lodge in the game park, with the second upmarket Biyela Lodge scheduled to open in February and a third lodge in the pipeline for the region.

Shabalala says these facilities are geared towards international tourists with chartered flights scheduled to begin in the near future via Ulundi airport. Also under construction is the multimillion-rand D’Chillerz Lounge on the outskirts of the town that will introduce accommodation, bars, a car wash and a shisanyama venue in a single complex.

Shabalala acknowledges that the lack of infrastructure and the deterioration of existing roads pose problems for boosting the local economy. While the Battle of Ulundi war memorial is in good condition, the short stretch of road leading to its parking facilities is merely giant dongas, and access into the Valley of the Kings is impeded by poor quality gravel roads.

Inappropriate parking space also means buses are unable to turn. Considering retail and commercial space, the R10 million King Senzangakhona Shopping Centre opened in 2008 and has among its anchor tenants most of the country’s leading retailers.

The mall is also home to smaller local retailers, but there are a host of papered-over windows advertising space to let via the management company. Among the commercial properties for sale is a 16-bedroom accredited bedand-breakfast facility boasting an 80% occupancy for R6.9m.

There are also signs for vacant land on the market with contact numbers for interested investors.

Tourism is the area’s top commercial opportunity

Built-It, Cashbuild and Boxer Build

DIY is big in Ulundi and the area is home to a Cashbuild outlet and other offerings. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

The country’s three leading DIY building materials companies are well represented. Built-It falls under the Spar Group with more than 350 retail outlets nationally. Cashbuild is among the largest retailers of building materials selling directly to cashpaying customers in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi and Zambia. Boxer Build, part of the Boxer Group, opened its doors in 2004 to provide builders’ hardware outlets in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Entenhle Bed and Breakfast

Entenhle B&B is one of many accommodation options in Ulundi as tourism in the area gains traction. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Located in the heart of Ulundi, the Entenhle B&B offers comfortable bed-and-breakfast accommodation in a tranquil establishment designed with guests’ requirements in mind. Accommodation is available via two en-suite bedrooms each equipped with a fan, beverage-making facilities and television set. Lunch and dinner packs can be served on request at an additional charge.

Garden Court Ulundi

The three-star Garden Court Ulundi, part of the Tsogo Sun Group, was the premier accommodation in the town when Ulundi was the KwaZulu-Natal capital city and ministers and journalists converged on the area for legislature business. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Part of the Tsogo Sun Group, the Garden Court Ulundi brings to the town a premier accommodation destination for business and leisure travellers in the heart of Zululand. The hotel has 72 modern en-suite rooms styled in soothing tones that draw inspiration from the architecture and landscape of its Zulu heritage.

King Senzangakhona Centre

Officially opened by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in 2008, the R10 million King Senzangakhona Centre brought to Ulundi a large-scale shopping centre and commercial hub. Today the centre comprises more than 40 outlets and is anchored by a host of national retail brands while supporting smaller local businesses. The centre is a key employer for Ulundi.

Bustling businesses and rich in culture


The town’s tourism offices are located at Ulundi Airport. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Northern Zululand is culturally and historically rich with various battlefields, game parks and burial sites located in a relatively small area. Ulundi offers opportunities for tourism-related businesses to flourish including accommodation, tour guiding and other services.


The dominance of DIY construction companies reflects opportunities for building and development. Most clients will be local homeowners improving their properties, but there are also supplies for larger initiatives.


The reality of poorer communities means there is an abundance of labour for new projects and initiatives.

Poor maintenance

Ulundi essentially serves a poor community and this means the municipality has limited resources. The outcome is poorly maintained with road, litter and unresolved water leakage problems.


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