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Umlazi: Sour water but sweet success

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South Africa’s fourth largest township is also the only one in the country to boast having its own car registration plates

Situated south-west of the Durban central business district, Umlazi is South Africa’s fourth-largest township after Soweto, Tembisa and Katlehong, making it the largest in KwaZulu-Natal. 

It is also the only township in the country to have its own car registration plate designation, specifically NUZ. 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 have brought significant public and private sector investment. 

Award-winning businesses and healthcare in Umlazi

These include the construction of new shopping complexes, primary and secondary schools, universities of technology and libraries. As the township’s most popular road, Mangosuthu Highway links Umlazi residents to many of its sections and passes in front of the Mangosuthu University of Technology. 

Most of the sections across Umlazi have a government clinic and a police station, and King Zwelithini Stadium was revamped ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cuptournament. 

The neighbourhood currently boasts three shopping centres: Mega-Philani Shopping Centre, Umlazi Mega City Mall and KwaMnyandu Shopping Centre, which opened in June 2014. 

The area is home to around 500 000 people, and Umlazi’s township life is always busy. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

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. 

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

There are also two further education training colleges, Umlazi Coastal College V and BB Campuses. 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 for success. 

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

There are various commercial property investment opportunities, albeit not advertised in the traditional manner found in CBDs or structured commercial zones. Wakefields currently has a 112m² industrial space on its books carrying an R800 000 price tag. 

Situated in Umlazi Mega City, the sale includes the business and stock, but not the property. The group also has a 1 349m² vacant land site on offer for R500 000 located on the taxi route and near to another site zoned for a petrol station. 

The Dormehl Phalane Property Group has a 64m² retail commercial property to rent in Umlazi, while InvesTrade has listed a score of properties for potential business owners over the past few weeks. 

Listed this week was a 100m² retail space (price on application) located near the major transportation routes and promising sound visibility from the main roads to maximise foot traffic. Tenants have parking on-site, while patrons can park in the street. 

Another premises on its books is a 332m² site within easy access of the M4 and R102 highways. Asking R60.24/m², the business also has good visibility from the main roads to maximise its exposure. 

There is a 650m2 retail space for R46.15/m², again with sound road exposure. Lastly, the group has listed a 2 566m² retail shopping centre (price on application) as a potential investment property. 

Zoned as mixed-use, it promises a broad range of tenant options as it has substantial retail and commercial leasible space and includes sufficient parking space for tenants and visitors. 

According to the agents, the centre was recently developed and is securely fenced to offer lock-up security features. InvesTrade also have vacant land on its books, specifically an 8 000m² site for potential investors. Private commercial sales advertised via social networking site Gumtree are also common. 

Posted last week was one advertising a 503m² Umlazi bed-and-breakfast establishment with access to transport “for R220 000 cash only”. Another private sale is an unspecified land site for R15 000.

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