Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth

The Early Days of Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth, shortened to PE, is known as the “The Windy City” is one of the major cities in South Africa. It has a rich history stemming back hundreds of years. It is the southernmost large city on the African continent.

Bartholomeu Dias was the first European to note the area when he landed on St Croix Island in 1488. He was followed by Vasco da Gama who noted the nearby Bird Island in 1497. The area was simply marked as a place to get fresh water as the main goal was India, where they could participate in the lucrative spice trade.

In order to defend the Cape Colony from the French during the Napoleonic Wars, the British built Fort Frederick in 1799 in Port Elizabeth. The name honored the Duke of York. It still stands today. The inscription on the memorial at the fort reads as follows:

This fort was built at the end of 1799, during war with France, as a permanent military base overlooking the only safe anchorage on the South East coast. Although garrisoned until 1862, no shot was ever fired in anger from it’s walls.

Substantial conflict arose in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s between the Europeans and the Xhosa’s over who gets the best farming areas. These conflicts became known as the Cape Frontier Wars.

Port Elizabeth Street

From 1814-1821, the Strandfontein farm which is now known as the Summerstrand area was owned by Piet Retief.  Retief would go on to become a Voortrekker leader whose party of over 500 people (including himself) would be brutally slaughtered by the Zulu king Dingaan.

In 1820, a large party of 4 000 British settlers arrived by sea at the bay. They were encouraged by the Cape Colony to form a settlement. The acting Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Rufane Donkin wished to strengthen his control on the area. In honor of his late wife, Elizabeth Donkin, he named the town, Port Elizabeth.

The town grew rapidly. The harbour began flourishing and a railway was built connecting the town to Kimberley in 1873. PE had become the second largest city in the Cape Colony, however this changed when Gold and other minerals were discovered in the Witwatersrand areas.

During the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902), no armed conflict took place in the city, however refugees moved to the city, this included many Boer woman and children were interred in a concentration camps. In 1905, the Horse Memorial was unveiled which stands to commemorate the the horses which perished in the Anglo Boer War.

The Defiance Campaign of 1952 had a strong following in Port Elizabeth with over 20 000 people taking part.The aim of the campaign was for non-white people to purposefully defy the apartheid laws by using whites only amenities and facilities such as toilets, benches and trains.

Apartheid laws such as the Group Areas Act resulted in many non-white citizens being forcibly removed from “prime real estate locations” such as South End and Fairview. As anti-apartheid resistance grew, the secrurity police began to crack down on political opponents. In 1977, the leader of the powerful Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko, was tortured and interrogated by the security police in Port Elizabeth, he died shortly after while being transported to Pretoria.

Despite Biko’s death, political consciousness began to grow in black townships especially with the formation of the United Democratic Front in 1983. Large boycotts were held in 1985/1986 which resulted in the National Party calling a State of Emergency.

Since the multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, PE has gone through the same troubles as the rest of the country such as HIV/Aids and unemployment, dirty streets and badly maintained infrastructure with hardly any traffic cops patrolling the roads.

The Coega Industrial Development Zone established in 1999 has been a positive change for the city resulting in a large amount of revenue and substantial job creation.

In 2010, PE was a host city for the FIFA World Cup hosting a total of 8 matches.

The city is also home to Nelson Mandela Univeristy situated close to some of PE’s most beautiful beaches.

Nelson Mandela University

References and Further Reading

Mayors of Port Elizabeth

Term ServedName of Mayor
1952-1953C.F. MacArthur
1950-1952J.C.K. Erasmus
1948-1950J.S. Young
1946-1948J.S. Neave
1944-1946John James Glendinning
1942-1944Alfred Charles Thomas Bloe
1940-1942Adolf Schauder
1938-1940James Mclean
1936-1938Walter Clement Adcock
1934-1936Thomas Charles White
1932-1934William Frederick Caulfield
1931-1932Henry John Millard
1929-1931James Scott
1927-1929Alfred Herbert Brookes
1925-1927John Stewart Young
1923-1925Archibald Linton
1921-1923Lt. Col. Alexander Peter John Wares
1920-1921William Frederick Savage
1919-1920John Stewart Young
1918-1919Henry Forbes
1916-1919John Chambers Kemsley Jnr.
1912-1916Adam White Guthrie
1910-1912George Stephen Whitehead
1908-1910Charles Huskisson Mackay
1905-1908Alexander Fettes
1901-1905John Chambers Kemsley Jnr.
1899-1901Maximilian Gumpert
1898-1899Alexander Fettes
1896-1898James Wynne
1895-1896Henry William Pearson
1894-1895James Brister
1894-1895John McIlwraith
1893-1894Henry William Pearson
1891-1893John McIlwraith
1890-1891James Brister
1884-1885James Brister
1882-1890Henry William Pearson
1881-1882John Chambers Kemsley
1880-1881Henry William Pearson
1878-1880Samuel Bain
1876-1878Henry William Pearson
1874-1876Hyman Henry Solomon
1871-1874Henry William Pearson
1866-1871John Miller
1865-1866Matthew Ebeneezer Kemp
1861-1865William Smith
Written by: Justin Daines