The Chief Minister of KwaZulu, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi first put forward the idea of establishing a tertiary educational institution specializing in technical subjects in 1974 at a meeting with the Chairperson of Anglo American and De Beers Consolidated Mines. Research was commissioned to investigate the potential in South Africa for the training and employment of more technicians, and was undertaken by the South Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) of the University of Cape Town. As the study showed that there was an immediate need and demand for more technicians, the Anglo American and De Beers Groups Chairperson's Fund decided to provide R5 million to build the necessary facilities, and at a later stage companies like Mobil Oil, AECI, the S.A. Sugar Millers' Association, the Rembrandt and Distillers Corporation, LTA Limited, Sasol and other sponsors provided more funds to establish the Schools for Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Building, and Business and Secretarial Studies. In mid 1977 the go-ahead was given for the project to begin, and it was decided by the KwaZulu Cabinet to develop the Technikon on the site in Umlazi which, while part of KwaZulu, is also part of the Durban Metropolitan area. Given the urgency of the demand for technicians, and the need to build up the institution in an orderly fashion, it was decided to open its doors as soon as possible. Hence preliminary but permanent buildings were designed and built, and teaching began in 1979. The Technikon moved into its main buildings on their completion in September 1981.
In November 2007, Mangosuthu Technikon was renamed Mangosuthu University of Technology.