The Nkandla region encompasses nearly 115,000 inhabitants, spread relatively sparsely over a large Area. Nkandla, is mainly a Rural Area and is in the top five of the poorest places in KwaZulu-Natal province. Poverty is prevalent, with 44% unemployment. The majority of the population are Zulu's. It consists mainly of tribal Lands and state-owned Land. The Area has a wealth of undisturbed Forests, which boast many indigenous species. Nkandla has a claim to be the ‘cradle’ of Zulu History. From Malandela to Shaka, to Dingane and Cetshwayo, Nkandla has been at the centre stage of the Zulu nation’s History. The graves of King Malandela and Cetshwayo are at Nkandla. It is the seat of the Nkandla Local Municipality, and the District in which the residence of the former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma is located. Contrary to common perception, Zuma's residence is not located in the Town of Nkandla, but rather 40 kilometres to the South beyond the Nkandla Forest and on the road to Kranskop.
The name Nkandla comes from the Zulu verb "khandla", which means "to be tired". The forest was named by King Shaka, when he reached the Area, exhausted from his journey and decided to rest there a while. The Chube people who were ironworkers associated with this Area, also used the forest as a stronghold, preventing themselves from being conquered by Shaka.
The Nkandla forest also represents a rare type of high wet rain Forest, of which very few examples survive. This type of forest is a remnant of a habitat from many years ago, which would have otherwise been extinct, but managed to survive. The Forest has an impressively high species diversity, and is home to many species that are associated with scarp forest habitats, indicating that Nkandla may be positioned in a transitional zone between mist and scarp forest. More than one hundred and fifty, different bird species have been observed in the Area and wildlife such as Bushbuck, Samango Monkey, Bush pig, Blue Duiker and Leopard can been seen occasionally in the forest. There is also a massive variety of rare plants growing in the Nkandla forest, and this, combined with the rarity of the habitat type as a whole, provides enough reasons for conserving this rare, Forest type. This being one of the most rare and outstanding examples of surviving: 'Mist Belt Forest', in South Africa. The Forest covers the crest and South-Western slopes of the ridge lying above the Mhlatuze and Tugela Rivers at an altitude of between 1100 and 1300 meters above sea level. Streams rising in the forest form deep gorges leading into the Nsuze River which runs along the base of the Ridge.
There are currently no visitor facilities at Nkandla, though people who wish to hike or camp may do so with the prior permission of the Officer in Charge.