Kwa-Zulu Natal


The Mabandla community in the Umzimkhulu Municipality in southern KwaZulu Natal are the owners and managers of a successful 1300 hectare commercial timber plantation business.   Plantation establishment at Mabandla commenced in 2000, funded through a household grants’ allocation acquired through the land reform programme. Those who contributed became beneficiaries of the Mabandla Community Trust. A forestry company, Umgano Forestry, with the Trust as 100% shareholder, was formed to run and manage the forestry enterprise. 

The plantation alone generates insufficient income and jobs to benefit all 2,300 beneficiary households of the Community Trust. For this reason, Trustees made a decision to re-invest all profits from timber sales in establishing other businesses, with the aim of providing more jobs and additional income streams for the community. To date, the Trust, with support from their partners, has established a sawmill, a livestock business, an eco-tourism and conservation programme and a training academy. A large agro-processing enterprise is still in the planning stage.

The Umsonti team has provided the Mabandla Community Trust (MCT) and the Umgano businesses with technical and managerial support since the project inception. Umsonti is in the process of handing over full management control to the Mabandla Community Trust.

The Mabandla plantation was first established in 2000 and comprises 850 ha of Eucalyptus and 450 ha of pine timber.

Now in full rotation, around 90 hectares of timber are harvested per year.


Pine timber produced in the plantation is processed in the Umgano Timbers sawmill to produce structural timber and pallet material.  Umgano Timbers is in the process of securing funding to purchase kilns, as this will add significant additional value to the structural timber produced in the mill.

The Mabandla livestock Association was formed to breed and market a herd of pure Nguni Cattle. The aim is to improve the quality of the local herd and increase cattle owners revenue. 

Umgano Training Academy was established in 2015 and was accredited with the FP&M Seta in 2016.  Courses are geared to further education, training and skills development for Mabandla and neighbouring communities and their business enterprises. The Academy also generates income from running courses in other areas. The following accredited courses are currently on offer:

  • Various forestry and agriculture skills training courses that are unit standard aligned.
  • General Education and Training Certificate: General Forestry (NQF Level 1).
  • General Education and Training Certificate: Lumber Milling (NQF Level 1).
  • National Certificate: Forestry: Silviculture (NQF Level 3).
  • National Certificate: Forestry: Timber Harvesting (NQF Level 3)
  • National Certificate: Nature Conservation: Resource Guardianship (NQF Level 2)

Mabandla falls within an area of high biodiversity and conservation value, known as the Maputaland–Pondoland–Albany Hotspot.  The mountain grasslands and indigenous forests of Mabandla support rare, threatened and endemic plant and animal species. An area of 1400 hectares was set aside as a Nature Reserve under the umbrella of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. Under this programme, the Mabandla Nature Reserve is considered a flagship for community-based biodiversity.  The programme also supported training and employment of field rangers from the local community.

The reserve is bounded by two major rivers and provides an ideal platform for tourism activities including fly fishing, kayaking, river rafting, abseiling, mountain biking, birding and hiking. Umgano EcoAdventures was set up with the aim of running an ecotourism business at Mablanda. The company is currently dormant awaiting funding and the right strategic partners.

A large scale agro-processing business plan is in place at Mabandla with a targeted annual turnover of R 45 million and employment of an additional 320 local people. Implementation of this ambitious plan is however currently on hold, pending the completion of an EIA as required by legislation.  


The community takes its name from the Zintwala river which runs through the land. The leaders chose to set aside one side of the river, approximately 600 hectares, for commercial timber. Of this, only 350 hectares was identified as suitable. The plantation is now in full rotation, harvesting around 38 hectares annually, and is FSC certified, assuring the community of a continuous source of income from the sale of timber.

The commercial plantation business has served as a springboard for a range of other businesses that provide additional jobs for community members and revenue for the Zintwala Community Trust (ZCT). ZCT is sole shareholder in the Zintwala Development Company that runs the forestry and associated businesses.

Zintwala won the award for the best Land Care project in KZN in 2017.


This community is adjacent to the Zintwala forestry plantation.  In 2003 community leaders approached Umsonti to assist them develop their own forestry business. After some delays in receiving planting permits and funding, a 346 hectare plantation was established in 2016.

Bee hives were purchased in 2012 to control wildfires that were started by the robbing of wild swarms.  The Sihleza Community secured an IDC grant of R730 000.00 in 2017 to assist with planting fruit trees and putting up a facility to process honey and jam.

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