Not many people realize the beautiful history behind many of Kwa-Zulu Natal’s river names. King Shaka kaSenzangakhona Zulu, one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom did not only conquer on the battlefield but he also played a significant role in naming the many different places and rivers he came across during his travels. Sifiso Mngoma, Durban Green Corridors’ intrepid blogger and traveler done some investigating and pulled together this fascinating history of some our local Durban rivers that were named by King Shaka.
This short river originates northwest of Adams Mission, and flows through the town of Amanzimtoti and the N2 crosses the river just before its mouth at the Indian Ocean. Zulu King Shaka is said to have named the river after drinking the waters and exclaiming in isiZulu "Kanti amanzi mtoti" meaning "So, the water is sweet". The river came to be known to English speakers as Amanzimtoti ("Sweet Waters"). The Zulu word for "sweet" is mnandi, but Shaka's mother had the name Nandi, so he is said to have invented the word 'toti' to replace mnandi, so as not to "wear out" her name.
The name Umlazi have been adapted from "umlaza" (Zulu for the sour acid produced from fermented milk or sour milk). It was believed that when the Zulu King Shaka, who reigned from 1816 to 1828, was passing through the area, he refused to drink from a local river because he alleged that it had the flavour of "umlaza", and from then on the region was called Umlazi, this region is now also the second biggest township in South Africa.
The Umngeni River originates in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and has its mouth at Durban’s Blue Lagoon, near the Durban Green Corridor GreenHub. It appears that King Shaka named this river Umngeni (which means River of entrance) after discovering that it enters the sea. In fact, his warriors even had a song that they would sing on their way that goes “sigudle, sadudla ngoMngeni” which means we came along, we came along the banks on Umngeni. It is also not widely known that the river mouth was redirected to where it now enters the ocean. The Umngeni originally flowed into Durban Bay where the current Joe Slovo (Field Street) and Anthony Lembede (West Street) cross.
South of Durban, we have Umkomaas River which enters the Indian Ocean near Aliwal Shoal, a world class destination for scuba divers. King Shaka named this river when he saw several Humpback Whale mothers with their calves using the estuary area as a resting area. And so, he named the river Umkhomazi meaning ‘watering place of whales’. Nowadays the river has apparently become too shallow for the whales to enter.
One of the interesting stories about the uMkomaas river is that people used to believe that it filled up with wind – so they called it Umkhomazi ogcwala ngomoya which literally means "it fills up with wind". This came about when people who are living near the river saw the river filling up without any rains. Nowadays we know that inland rains filled the river, but at the time, as people had not seen any rain it was claimed that the the river was filled by winds.