The City of uMhlathuze (KZ 282) is situated on the north-east coast of the province of KwaZulu-Natal, about 180 kilometres north-east of Durban. The uMhlathuze area covers 795 km² and incorporates Richards Bay, Empangeni, eSikheleni, Ngwelezane, eNseleni, Felixton and Vulindlela, as well as the rural areas under Traditional Councils namely, Dube, Mkhwananzi, Khoza, and Zungu (Madlebe). The population is estimated at 334459 (2011 Census). The municipality borders a coastline that spans approximately 45 kilometers. The N2 highway traverses the uMhlathuze Municipality in a north-east direction towards the Swaziland border and south-west towards Durban. It effectively forms a division between Empangeni and Richards Bay. The R34 Provincial Main Road passes through Empangeni towards Melmoth.
The uMhlathuze Municipality was established on 5 December 2000 after the demarcation process and the local government elections of that date. As such it encompasses the towns of Empangeni, Richards Bay, eSikhaleni, Ngwelezane, eNseleni, Vulindlela and Felixton as well as the Traditional Authority areas under Amakhosi Dube, Mkhwanazi, Khoza, Mbuyazi and Zungu. The uMhlathuze Local Municipality has been divided into 30 municipal wards.
There are a number of natural and man-made phenomenons that have shaped and continue to shape the uMhlathuze Municipality. The area is inundated with a system of wetlands and natural water features such as Lakes Cubhu, Mzingazi, Nsezi and Nhlabane. Major rivers include the Mhlathuze and Nsezi.
The main access into the municipal area is via the N2 in a north south direction and in an east west direction the R34 from Ntambanana. Other significant roads in the area include the MR431 (that provides a northerly entry into Richards Bay from the N2) as well as the Old Main Road that straddles the N2. Railway lines are prevalent in the municipal area but do not provide a passenger service, only a commercial/industrial service is provided.
The municipality has the benefit of about 45km of coastline of which about 80% is in its natural state. Linked to its coastal locality is the Richards Bay deep-water port that has been instrumental in the spatial development of the area in the past and will definitely impact on the areas’ future spatial development. There is one airport and a couple of land strips in the municipal area.
The municipal areas includes the formal towns of Empangeni, Richards Bay, eSikhaleni, Ngwelezane, eNseleni, Vulindlela and Felixton as well as the Traditional Authority areas under Amakhosi Dube, Mkhwanazi, Khoza, Mbuyazi and Zungu. Apart from the areas of natural significance, large tracts of land are under commercial agricultural production.
The municipal population has increased by, on average, 1.45% per annum from 2011. In 2001 there were 289 189 people in the Municipality and in 2011 the census indicated a population of 334 459. The number of households increased from 67 127 in 2001 to 86 609 in 2011.