Port Elizabeth or known as Madiba Bay is a city in South Africa, situated in the Eastern Cape Province of Cape Town. The city, often shortened to PE and nicknamed “The Friendly City” or “The Windy City”, stretches for 16km along Algoa Bay, and is one of the major seaports in South Africa.
Port Elizabeth was founded as a town in 1820 to house British settlers as a way of strengthening the border region between the Cape Colony and the warlike Xhosa tribe. It now forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality which has a population of over 1 million.
The area around what is now called Algoa Bay was first settled by indigenous tribes countless centuries ago. It is said that the San and Khoisan people were amongst the first inhabitants, and the Xhosa tribe came later. However, little is known as no written records are believed to exist from that time.
The first Europeans to have visited the area were Portuguese explores Bartolomeu Dias, who landed on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay in 1488, and Vasco da Gama who noted the nearby Bird Island in 1497. For centuries, the area was simply marked on navigation charts as “a landing place with fresh water”.
The area was part of the Cape Colony, which had a turbulent history between its founding by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
In 1799, during the first British occupation of the Colony during the Napoleonic Wars, a stone Fort was built, named Fort Frederick after the then Duke of York. This fort, built to protect against a possible landing of French Troops, overlooked the site of what later became Port Elizabeth and is now a monument.
In 1804 the town of Uitenhage was founded along the Swartkops River, a short distance inland from its estuary at Algoa Bay. Uitenhage formed part of the district of Graaff-Reinet at that time. The city of Uitenhage was incorporated in the new Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality together with Port Elizabeth and the town of Despatch in 2001.
From 1814 to 1821 the Strandfontein farm, which later became the Summerstrand beach suburb of Port Elizabeth, was in possession of Piet Retief, who later became a Voortrekker leader and was killed in 1837 by Zulu king Dingane during negotiations about land. An estimated 500 men, woman and children of his party were massacred. After Retief the Strandfontein farm was owned by Frederik Korsten after whom another suburb of Port Elizabeth is named today.
In 1820 a party of 4000 British settlers arrived by sea, encouraged by the government of the Cape Colony as a settlement would strengthen the border region between the Cape Colony and the warlike Xhosa tribe. At this time the seaport town was founded by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, the Acting Governor of the Cape Colony, who named it after his late wife, Elizabeth. The town expanded, building a diverse community comprising European, Cape Malay and other immigrants, and particularly rapidly so after 1873 when the railway to Kimberley was built. The Apostolic Vicariate of Cape of Good Hope, Eastern District, was established in the city in 1847. In 1861 the town was granted the status of autonomous municipality.
During the Second Boer War, the British built a concentration camp here to house Boer women and children. Following that war, the Horse Memorial was erected to honor the tens of thousands of horses and mules which died during the conflict.
The effects of the apartheid regime were not lost on Port Elizabeth. Forced relocation of the non-white population under the Group Areas Act began in 1962, causing various townships to be built. The whole of the South End district, being a prime real estate location, was forcibly depopulated and flattened in 1965; relocations continued until 1975. In 1977 Steve Biko, the black anti-apartheid activist, was interrogated and tortured by the security police in PE, before being transported to Pretoria where he died.
Since the free elections of 1994, Port Elizabeth has faced the same problems as the rest of South Africa, including HIV/AIDS and a surge in violent, often drug-related, crime. However, thanks to the booming tourism and real estate industries, development continues apace both in the city and nearby, for example in the new Industrial Development Zone at Coega.
In 2001, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality was formed as an administrative area covering Port Elizabeth, the neighboring towns of Uitenhage and Despatch and the surrounding agricultural areas. The name was chosen to honor Nelson Mandela who was born and lives in nearby Transkei. The combined metropolitan area has a population estimated at around 1.3 million as of 2006.
The Port Elizabeth harbor, waterfront and city center are in the process of being upgraded before the 2010 Football World Cup, and are expected to rival the popular Cape Town waterfront. The city is one of the venues for World Cup games, and many more visitors are expected. To this end, there are calls for Port Elizabeth Airport to be upgraded, to ease the journey time and effort both for World Cup teams and spectators, and also more generally for tourists.
During the 1960s and 1970’s the character of Port Elizabeth was changed and its face marred by two projects. The university was removed from the historical and picturesque old part of Port Elizabeth on a hill overlooking the city center and harbor to a sandy area on the outskirts of town. The campus in town was completely inadequate. Since this removal the old center of Port Elizabeth has seen a slow decline. This decline was augmented by a second project, namely the building of a series of highways, viaducts and interchanges directly along the coast and over the roof of the central station thereby severing the old town from the station and harbor, destroying much of its history, integrity, allure and safety. The same system of highways also added to the damage already done by industries to the beautiful and fragile wetland area of the Swartkops estuary, one of Port Elizabeth’s main natural assets.