It was founded around 1820 by King Shaka as KwaDukuza (Place of the Lost Person) because of the capital's complex labyrinth of huts. After Shaka's assassination in a coup by two of his half-brothers, Dingane and Umthlangana (Mhlangane), on September 24, 1828, the town was burnt to the ground. In 1873, European settlers built a town on the site, and named it Stanger after William Stanger, the Surveyor-General of Natal.
Today, a small museum adjoins the site of King Shaka's grave, a grain pit, in the town centre. The otherwise simple town is surrounded by sugar cane fields, and the mahogany tree where King Shaka held meetings still stands in front of the municipal offices. The Shaka Day festival, a colourful ceremony of 10,000 or more Zulus, is held at the Stanger Recreation Grounds on 24 September each year.
In the Zulu name, the 'Kwa' at the start of KwaDuzuka is pronounced as the English "gwa".
Stanger is a cane growing centre and a bustling town. The Stanger North Coast Museum houses a great variety of historical items and information on King Shaka, the sugar industry and local history.
Stanger became a municipality in 1949 and is the commercial, magisterial and railway centre for one of the more important sugar producing districts.
The modern day town area of Stanger has a distinct eastern flavour due the import of Indian labourers during the late 1800s to early 1900s to work under the name of sugar cane barons like Sir Liege Hullet. India sponsored indentured labourers to South Africa as the Zulus were not inclined to farm labour. The first few hundreds of Indian families departed northwards from Port Natal to the cane farms that applied for them, on 17 November 1860. The idea of importing Indian labourers was abandoned in 1911 after their numbers exceeded one hundred thousand. Most Indians did not return to India after their work contracts expired, and exchanged their return trip passes for currency or property. The expansion of the Indian community brought about a change in the economical and cultural attributes of Stanger.