The town of Umkomaas is on eThekwini's southern border, some 50kms from Durban. It's name is the corrupted form of the African name for the river Mkhomazi (Place of cows)

Words Khangelani Mayeza

Pictures Jessie Singh

Like many of the places along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, it is said to have been named by the Zulu King, Shaka after he watched cows giving birth to their calves off the river mouth. European settlers made their mark on the area, starting in 1861 with a failed harbour project and then with a more successful railway venture in 1897. The town of Umkomaas was established in 1902.

Ashley Roberts, a librarian in the local library has been living in the town since 1971. “Things have come and gone in the small town, but what remains the same is the laid back atmosphere.” She spoke fondly of a famous cinema which once drew crowds of visitors to the town to enjoy movies and ferry rides while enjoying good Italian food. The once-strong Italian influence seems to wane these days, however. “Much of the Italian community has left to be with their families and the rest have settled in old age homes,” she said.

There are no more old school Italian restaurants and the Saint Andreas Hotel is gone too, although the building itself is still there. Now called Lala Manzi, it remains Umkomaas’ number one tourist attraction. Another popular haunt is Sea Fever, also known as the Lido Hotel, built in 1897.

The big tourist drawcard is not in the town itself, but several kilometres offshore. The world-famous diving location, Aliwal Shoal, draws thousands of dive enthusiasts each year to Umkomaas, the closest launch spot. Several ended up settling in the town, some to start dive-related businesses. “They have been living in the town for a long time. It was the friendliness of the community that attracted them to the area,” said Roberts. Mathew James was one of them. He lived in Umkomaas for more than a decade, but has now relocated to England.

“No matter how much I travel the world I will always carry with me the great memories of Umkomaas,” he said. Desmond Troutman, affectionately called Bishop Desmond Tutu by locals, has also lived in Umkomaas for 10 years. He loves the town because, “the people here are good and friendly. Everybody knows everybody. I would not want to leave for any reason. I would just miss it too much”. For sport and recreation, locals frequent the Umkomaas Golf Course, where they not only enjoy a good round of golf but also the great food served at the club house. On Sundays you'll find crowds of locals, many of them young people, at the Umkomaas Soccer Club where there are usually tournaments taking place among the various soccer clubs from the surrounding towns.

Sakhile Mpisane is a soccer player who has played soccer in the area for many years. He said soccer was a way to keep fit that also taught discipline and goal setting. It was also a good way to keep young people busy and away from drugs, alcohol abuse and crime. Other places to visit are the Umkomaas ski boat club, which hosts an annual ski boat race, and the Impisini Game Reserve, created to conserve indigenous plants and wildlife. Croc World, just south of Umkomaas, is a must-visit, especially for families. As the name suggests, crocodiles are the main attraction, but there's also a wide selection of snakes, birds and other animals to keep the kids entertained.

So it's no surprise it is popular for primary school outings. The town also boasts modern restaurants like Taste and Sebastian’s which cater for seafood lovers. Very popular among young people is the Waves restaurant on the beachfront next to the Umkomaas River Mouth. Keith Cele who grew up in the area is a well known DJ and sound Engineer. He said, “Waves not only has great food at an affordable price, but it is accessible. It is close to the river mouth and a lot of the local youth and those from surrounding towns come together at weekends to party in an open and safe environment”. During the day, the river mouth is popular with people of all ages, with people braaing, sunbathing or just relaxing with family and friends.

At night, the atmosphere changes to something like an outdoor nightclub, with all types of music blaring from the cars, punctuated by the sound of revving engines and the aroma of braai meat. River mouth regular Brandon Moodley a guy who is well known by the locals said, “It’s more than a place for the youth to party. It’s a place for different races and cultures to come together to socialize. This is the number one reason why Umkomaas has very little crime. We are like one big family”.

  • Umkomaas consists of Clansthal, Craigieburn, Ilfracombe, Saiccor Village, Magabheni and Umgababa
  • A notable event in the town’s history was a fatal air crash involving a Kitty Hawk Air Force plane during the Second World War
  • The Umkomaas golf Course was opened in 1913.

Mr Sifiso Mabuza who has lived in the town for more than 12 years, and is soon to become the first black dive master in the town said “for me Umkomaas will always be my home, not only do I love the people here but I love the town itself”. He also said that there is much to do in this town. Other popular places to visit are places such as Ilfracombe where you can find places to hang out and have a braai at the local butcheries. Other places are Magabheni where there are a lot of youth events that are held in the area by the youth as well as the famous Mkhize shop in the area.

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