Greater Tzaneen is a municipality of natural beauty and resources; rivers, streams, dams, indigenous forests, citrus plantations and tourist attractions. Almost two thirds of the land is privately owned and used mainly for commercial farming. One third is under the custodianship of tribal authorities.
The Letsitele Valley lies along the Letsitele River, a tributary of the Letaba River, towards the mountains near New Agatha, in the northern Limpopo province. The valley is about 30 kilometres south of Tzaneen and regarded as one of the main agricultural areas in the Lowveld producing significant quantities of bananas, mangoes, citrus, avocados, litchis, tomatoes, and macadamia nuts.
One of the local legends, Chief Makgoba, described the area where town is now situated as ‘Tzaneng’ meaning ‘gathering place’.
The Tzaneen area is a subtropical paradise filled with indigenous and exotic plants. Tzaneen itself lies peacefully at the foot of the northern Drakensberg Mountains in the heart of a forestry area and in South Africa's richest sub-tropical fruit-farming region which yields Valencia oranges and grapefruit as well as bananas, mangoes, avocado pears, paw-paws, tea, coffee and macadamia nuts.
The town contributes substantially to the production of timber with the surrounding mountain slopes heavily forested with pine and blue gum plantations. Approximately forty sawmills operate in the area.
The valley, rather than the farming community, is thought to derive its name from the Letsitele River, meaning “valley of the dead” in Sotho. The meaning of this rather ominous sounding name no doubt originates in the devastating effects of malaria, which held much of the valley in its grip until the 1930s.
Despite historical reference to Dr Siegfried Annecke as the man behind managing the effects of the disease in the area, it was actually a Dr Botha de Meillon who was responsible for establishing the Malaria Research Station in Tzaneen and doing all the initial work on the life cycle of the parasite. It was later named the Siegfried Annecke Research Institute, after the man who de Meillon hired to carry out the malaria control programme that was to bring the disease under control. The institute in Tzaneen continues research in both malaria and bilharzia today.