Living in the Eastern Cape
Living in the Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape stretches along some 800km of the south-eastern shores of South Africa. From the endless beaches and craggy bays of the coastline, the province gradually crosses an interior of grassland, rivers and dense forests to reach its northern boundary in the majestic Drakensberg Mountains. The vast interior of the province ranges from the dry Karoo in the west, where small towns can be more than 100km apart, to the rolling hills and cascading rivers of the Transkei in the east. The Eastern Cape borders the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, the Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, and the small mountain country of Lesotho in the north.
Its coastline starts where the Tsitsikamma Mountains reach the sea, and runs past the surfers’ meccas of Cape St Francis and Jeffrey’s Bay towards Port Elizabeth, the southernmost city in Africa. It heads north-east from Port Elizabeth, past East London and along the unspoiled Wild Coast, taking in the town of Port St Johns, as well as undiscovered Pondoland.
The province is situated an equal distance from South Africa’s three largest cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, and is linked to these centres by a modern network of air, roads and railways. Two ports at East London and Port Elizabeth, and soon a third at Ngqura to serve the Coega Industrial Development Zone, give the province easy access to markets all over the world.
The Eastern Cape is actively exploiting its prime location on the southern coast of Africa to drive export-driven manufacturing, with the automotive industry in the front line. The province seeks to take the benefits of export growth deep into its economy by processing its abundant natural resources, and by producing higher-value manufactured goods.
The people and their history
Today, most of the almost 7-million people who live in the Eastern Cape speak isiXhosa, followed by English and Afrikaans. That is a reflection of the rich tapestry of the province’s history and culture. Some call the region the crucible of modern South African history and identity.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were hunter-gatherers who, for millennia, roamed across vast grasslands. These people, the San (called Bushmen for much of the past), left thousands of rock paintings, and probably painted in a trance state as part of religious rituals. The San were joined by Khoi pastoralists, whose legacy lives on in place names like Kieskamma, Kei and Tsitsikamma.
About 2,000 years ago, Nguni-speaking people entered these hunting grounds, bringing with them a totally new way of life based on cattle and crop farming. They became the dominant group, absorbing many of the Khoi and San.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, as waves of colonialists tried to expand their empires, the Xhosa people provided the first determined resistance, and the Eastern Cape became the site of the first real colonial wars in Africa. Nine border wars were fought between the Xhosa and the British for the control of the Eastern Cape. With the victory of British colonialism and then of Afrikaner nationalism, the Xhosa came under the control of the Cape and later National Party governments. Today, the traditions of the early Xhosa, Dutch, British and German people are kept alive in the province.
The end goal of the architects of apartheid was what they called ‘separate development’. They declared a series of areas ‘independent’, and therefore not part of ‘white’ South Africa. The Eastern Cape was its guinea pig: the Transkei was the first to be given this status; the Ciskei the second. These areas are now part of the new South Africa but have inherited massive under-development from apartheid.
The major apartheid resistance movements – the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, and the Black Consciousness Movement – were born in the Eastern Cape. Some of the province’s more famous political heroes are Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, and Thabo Mbeki.
The Eastern Cape is the only one of South Africa’s nine provinces to have all seven of its biomes, or ecological zones, within its boundaries. This gives it a tremendous diversity of climates, allowing for a vast range of activities.
The Eastern Cape also has more ‘sunshine’ days than any other South African province – more than 300 out of 365 days are sunny.
Along the coastal areas, the climate is mild warm temperate to sub-tropical. The climate and temperature gradually changes from a temperate, winter rainfall ‘Southern Cape’ climate south of Port Elizabeth, through a warm coastal belt between Port Elizabeth and East London, to a humid zone beyond East London. It becomes sub-tropical in Pondoland beyond Port St Johns.
The deeper inland areas are in stark contrast to the stable climate of the coast. Conditions can become extreme. In the Karoo, summers are hot and dry, and frost is common during the winter months. Some of the Drakensberg Mountain areas have snow in winter and are among the coldest in the country, explaining why South Africa’s only snow-ski resort is in the province.
The Eastern Cape is well watered, with regular rainfall in the mountains of the Drakensberg and hills of the Transkei feeding a number of major rivers. The lowland coastal belt, extending 30 to 60km inland, can have rain all the year round, although the ‘Southern Cape’ regions west of Port Elizabeth are the only true winter rainfall regions of the province. The dry Karoo in the west receives little rain.
To choose to live in the Eastern Cape is to choose a superior lifestyle with all modern conveniences at hand. Here, more than 300 days in a year are sunny, a magnificent coastline stretches along 800km of the warm Indian Ocean, numerous unspoiled estuaries run into the sea, and in winter, snow caps the mountains inland.
Living in the Eastern Cape is like being on holiday all year round. The difference to a holiday, though, is that there is access to world-class medical, educational and sports facilities, affordable and top-quality housing, and vibrant theatre and arts. The bottom line is that in the Eastern Cape, you can combine the best of both worlds – living in a modern city, if you so choose, and enjoying natural beauty in all its glory.
Lifestyle is a make-or-break factor in investment decisions. Many investors speak of the ease they have in attracting staff to work in the Eastern Cape. There are excellent schools for their children, hospitals when they need them, good telecommunications, and modern centres for their shopping needs. Then there are the cherries on the top: beaches and rivers for relaxing on, a warm climate to enjoy all year round, ancient rock art sites to clamber up to, about a million hectares of malaria-free game and nature reserves to explore, and arts to enjoy. And they can do all of this in a province with one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
The Eastern Cape is known for its educational institutions. Some of the country’s best schools are in the province. Its universities include Rhodes University, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the Walter Sisulu University and Fort Hare, alma mater of many African presidents and leaders, including Nelson Mandela – who today chooses to live in the Eastern Cape, his place of birth. A problem has been that many young graduates leave the province to work else. The government is attempting to address this through its Skills Attraction and Retention strategy. The government has further identified key and critical skills – in tourism, infrastructure, manufacturing and agriculture – which the province needs to build and acquire in order to drive the Provincial Growth and Development Programme. The National Skills Fund’s allocation of R100-million to the province is accelerating skills acquisition.
The province’s cities and larger towns are served by excellent private hospitals, which include the full range of specialist services.
The great outdoors holds plenty of options for sport. The province is the home of world famous cricketers, rugby players and boxers. It has three of South Africa’s top 10 golf courses, as well as facilities for almost any other type of sport you could desire to play. Hiking and trailing is a popular activity, and adventure seekers find adrenalin rushes in such activities as white water rafting, scuba diving and bungee jumping. The Eastern Cape is one of the world’s top surfing destinations, and 4x4 trailing is growing in popularity.
Art and culture is an important part of the Eastern Cape lifestyle. A well of indigenous song, dance, poetry, arts and crafts has sprung up across the Eastern Cape in the wake of the democratisation of South Africa. Musicians frequently perform in the province’s cities; and there is always a theatre production or art exhibition to choose from. People travel from all over the country to attend the annual Grahamstown Arts Festival.
Perhaps it’s the people of the Eastern Cape, though, that will draw you once and for all. Known for their warm hospitality, they embody a history that has fought numerous frontier wars and the long struggle for liberation from apartheid – and ultimately reconciled, producing a rich, multicultural society. The Eastern Cape is rightly termed: ‘Home of Heroes – Home of Quality’.