The town of Malelane got its name from either the Swazi word, "emlalani" which means "place of the lala palms", or was named after a Swazi tribe which meant"guardians" - of the ford in the Crocodile River. The spelling of "Malalane " is also sometimes used.
The farm Malelane was originally owned by "Mkonto" Elphick who sold it after the death of his wife, Rosa Louisa, to Andrews of Barberton. Andrews then sold the farm to Allan Francis Dowdle in 1940. Not interested in farming the land, Dowdle, a businessman from Johannesburg, divided it into 50 acre plots and in 1943 advertised the plots at £1 000 each.
Near the station at Malelane were three shops, one of which was owned by Minty and Sons. The station building in Malelane housed the post office. There were a few English speaking and Portuguese farmers. One of the earliest farmers to buy ground south of Malelane was James Henry Martins who farmed cattle on the farm Minnehaha. He built a stone house on the mountain because he was very afriad of contracting Malaria, which was (and still is) rife in this area of Mpumalanga. The stone was produced from a quarry on the farm and the wooden door and window frames were made from local timber by a builder from Wales and a cabinet maker from England. During the war years he accommodated refugees in the cellar of the house. He was known by the Swazi as "Mkulumazonke", which means, "he who can speak of everything"
Dowdle sold plots with water rights.Water for irrigation would be brought from the Spago dam on the farm Spago, to supply the plot owners. A canal was constructed from the dam by Dowdle, but owing to financial problems this was never completed. However, the plot owners became angry because they had no water. Barry de Villiers was one of these, and although he harassed Dowdle for water, he received no joy. Dowdle continued to sell the plots with the right to a water supply, even though he was unable to supply it.Barry had two options, either to pump water himself as his plots were close to the Crocodile River, or to develop an irrigation scheme which would benefit the community as a whole.
Eventually, Dowdle was persuaded to pay for Alan Andrews' old steam boiler next to the river and Barry supplied the equipment. The canal was made just south of the national road up to the station. Barry was the first plot owner next to the canal and those on the upper part of the canal were supplied by means of an intermediate pump. This eventually led to the establishment of the Malelane Irrigation Board in 1955. On another portion of the farm Malelane, Dowdle planned a town in the form of a wagon wheel which was surveyed in 1944. The plan was approved in 1945 and he then applied for the establishment of the town. Dowdle, sadly, was declared insolvent and all his assets were sold by public auction. Hr left Malelane and lived with family in Sabie. He died in Johannesburg in 1947.
The first and only 'street' - Stasieweg (Station Road) - in the town was also the entry road from the national road to the station. One of the 'establishment stipulations' for the tarring of this road by the state, was that water be provided to the houses along 'Stasieweg' as well as to at least three further points convenient to the residents of the town. Water was obtained from a borehole and pumped to a reservoir. In order to obtain this service, stands were bought along 'Stasieweg".
Home-owners had to see to their own sewerage and rubbish removal. Nico Horn established the first electricity scheme for the town in the Malelane Garage . A 75kW generator supplied electricity daily from 07:00 to 23:00 to homes, shops, a butchery and garage. This scheme continued until Eskom began to supply power to Malelane in 1962. As there was no community hall in existence for church services, and other activities, these were held in the show room of the Malelane Garage. Cornelius Weyers donated the first £30 towards the building of the hall. Rob Ferreira, as representative of Malelane Development Company (Pty) Ltd., donated the stand for the building, through the negotiation and support of Mrs Lala de Villiers.
Until the 1940's there was no control over malaria, and houses had to be sprayed with insecticide during the summer months to eradicate mosquitoes. A clinic was a necessity because of the large labour force for farming in and around Malelane.A Clinic was founded at Malelane and was originally under control of the Shongwe hospital. Later they could no longer assist financially, so the clinic functioned independently but eventually fell into disuse. Because a clinic was an absolute necessity, the Community Development Association, assisted by John Roberts and the Malelane Farmers Association, obtained a suitable portion of land from Malelane Estates, free of charge, for the establishment of a clinic. During 1991 this clinic, known as Malelane Estates Clinic, was declared open by the Mayor, Dr Willem Bekker.