On Thursday mornings, I teach Paul – though sometimes he ends up teaching me about by-elections or Hebrew grammar or pivot tables. This last Thursday, following the hype around the Umzimkhulu by-election (in isiZulu, ukhetho lokuchibiyela or ‘the election of filling in the gaps’), we ended up translating the names of KwaZulu-Natal’s municipalities (which isn’t as dull a job as you might think!).

Let’s start with the District Municipalities:

DC21 – Ugu > Water’s-edge

DC22 – Umgungundlovu > what-is-surrounded-by-elephants

DC23 – uThukela > named after the Thukela river, which probably means ‘the-one-that-gives-sudden-surprises’ (from the second meaning of thuka, the first meaning being ‘swear at’ or ‘abuse’)

DC24 – uMzinyathi > named after the uMzinyathi river, meaning ‘buffalo-homestead’

DC25 – Amajuba > literally, ‘the-doves’ – famously misheard as Majuba, the name of a battle-site in the first Anglo-Boer war.

DC26 – Zululand > quite self-explanatory, really.

DC27 – uMkhanyakude > ‘what-shines-from-afar’, a name for the fever-trees so prominent in this area

DC28 – uThungulu > ‘coastal bush made up of Natal plums’ (Carissa Grandiflora)

DC29 – iLembe > ‘the blade/hero’ – one of iNkosi Shaka kaSenzangakhona’s izithakazelo 

DC43 – Sisonke > ‘we are whole’

Ethekwini Metro > either ‘at the place of the thing with only one testicle’ or ‘at the bay’ – i.e. Durban


Under each of these district municipalities are the various local municipalites:

DC21 has Vulamehlo (Open-the-eyes), Umdoni (the water-myrtle tree, syzygium cordatum), Umzumbe (the heavy-weight-parcel river), Umuziwabantu (homestead-of-the-people), Ezingoleni (I’m reserving judgement on this one, because one of the meanings is a bit rough), and Hibiscus.

DC22 has Umshwathi ( the-walking-in-a-pathless-place-river, or the-river-that-slips-in-secretly), Umngeni (the-river-that-enters), Mpofana (the-little-Eland-river, the Zulu name for the Mooi), Impendle (the-bleakly-exposed-place), Msunduzi (the ‘Duzi’ river, the ‘river-that-shoves-things-aside’, which runs through Pietermaritzburg), Mkhambathini (at-the-place-resembling-a-flat-top-Camel-thorn-tree, the umkhambathi or acacia xanthophloea) and Richmond.

DC23 has Emnambithi (the tasty place), Indaka (the mud-and-dung-coloured place), Umtshezi (brick-red-place), Okhahlamba (in the place of the row of upward-pointing spears) and Imbabazane (the-stinging-nettle place). 

DC24 has Endumeni (the-place-of-thundering), Nqutu (uncertain, but probably to do with ‘the back of the head’), Msinga (the whirlpool) and Umvoti (the water river – highly imaginative).

DC25 has Newcastle, Emadlangeni (in-the-place-of-the-vultures) and Dannhauser.

DC26 has Edumbe (in-the-place-of-the-amadumbe-plants), Uphongolo (the-protruding-bluff-river-area), Abaqulusi (the-people-shivering-naked-in-the-cold, or the-people-who-reject-determinedly), Nongoma (unsure – please help me here) and Ulundi (the high pinnacle, the apex, the edge).

DC27 has Umhlabuyalingana (where-the-earth-is-equal), Jozini (in-the-place-of-the-broad-bladed-spear), Big 5 False Bay, Hlabisa (assist-in-the-sacrifice, or cause-to-pierce, or present-the-sacrificial-beast) and Matubatuba (possibly the-crumbled-up-pieces place).

DC28, lapho engikhulela khona, has Mfolozi (named after the Umfolozi or ‘Zig-Zag’ rivers), Umhlathuze (listed simply as ‘a river in Zululand’, the name suggests ‘the-river-that-goes-hláthu’, where hláthu denotes ‘working for a short time’), Ntambanana (perhaps a metathesis of Ntambamana, meaning ‘the early afternoon’), Umlalazi (the-whetstone-river-place), Mthonjaneni (at-the-springs) and Nkandla (this most controversial ‘forest district’ in KZN has a name possibly derived from the verb khandla, meaning ‘exhaust’, ‘fatigue’ and ‘weary’, has cognates like umkhandlu meaning ‘assembly of men’).

 DC29, the district of the Blade who conquered all others with sharpness (iLemb’eleq’amanye ngokukhalipha), has Mandeni (defying exact translation – help please), KwaDukuza (the site of the kraal-so-large-one-could-lose-one’s-way), Ndwedwe (unsure here – help needed) and Maphumulo (the place of the-tribe-where-resting-places-are-needed-on-account-of-danger). 

DC 43, the last lot, has Ingwe (the Leopard), KwaSani (Sani’s place), Greater Kokstad, Ubuhlebezwe (the-beauty-of-the-country) and Umzimkhulu (the-great-homestead-river). 

If reading these names sparks memories of each of the places they stand for, please tell me – they certainly remind me.