Eastern Cape

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The Eastern Cape’s coat of armsThe Eastern Cape’s coat of arms

Before 1993, the Eastern Cape was part of the Cape Province. Today it includes the old homelands of Ciskei and Transkei. Many of South Africa's leaders were born in the Eastern Cape, like Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko.

Capital: Bisho

Main languages: isiXhosa, Afrikaans, English

Premier: Ms Noxolo Kiviet

First premier (1994): Raymond Mhlaba

The Eastern Cape's claim to fame:

Coega

Coega deep water harbour | Grahamstown festival

In the Coega River near Port Elizabeth, there is a new deepwater port or harbour. It is a big port through which ships bring products from overseas or take them from South Africa to other countries... Coega website, where you can find out more about the project and its history.

Every year in July, there is a big arts festival in Grahamstown. At the festival, there is art, dancing, music and theatre. It is a great way to find out more about the different cultures in South Africa.

Whether you're in the mood for an informal seaside escape, an encounter with the "Big Five" on safari, or a choice of scintillating city diversions, you're sure to find what you're looking for in the Eastern Cape. Scenic diversity is one of the most striking characteristics of the region, ranging from the lush, evergreen Tsitsikamma Forest to the rugged Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, the southern slopes of the Drakensberg and the arid Great Karoo.

Alternating between sweeping sand, river mouths, rocks and covers, the coastline is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. Among them, surfers ride the perfect waves, anglers reel in king-size catches, and board sailors revel in the challenge of the wind. Sunshine all year round, fine leisure resorts and splendid facilities ensure that the great outdoors is always in style. Superbly set on the shores of Algoa Bay, "The Friendly City" is the fifth biggest city in South Africa and the largest on the coast between Cape Town and Durban. A popular leisure resort, the City of Port Elizabeth beckons with an attractive atmosphere of year-round holiday fun against a backdrop of urban activity. Its warm, welcoming nature is matched by a climate which boasts more sunshine than any other coastal town in the country. Algoa Bay encourages all forms of water sport; in, on and under the sea, where there is a colourful diving region. The beaches are always alive with sun worshippers, and conditions are excellent for surfing, sailing, diving and angling. Close by, the Swartkops River offers endless opportunities for enjoyment. Port Elizabeth has beautiful parks, botanical gardens and nature reserves with an abundance of bird life. Many inland and coastal walking trails can be explored in the area. In Port Elizabeth, the 1820 Settlers were introduced to their new land, and there they built some of the graceful period homes that still enhance the city's landscape. Since then, the tiny settlement has grown into a busy commercial, industrial and educational city with attractive shops, parks, theatres, museums and restaurants. After exploring the city of Port Elizabeth, a day trip can be made to the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park. 
 
South Africa's only river port city, is set on the broad Buffalo River and one of the most attractive stretches of the Eastern Cape seaboard. The City of East London offers sweeping white beaches which extend for miles; unpolluted, uncrowded, unspoiled. Swimming, sailing, water-skiing, boardsailing and boating are enjoyed all year round, while the river mouths, lagoons and gullies provide a paradise for fishermen. 
East London is the ideal base from which to explore the North-Eastern mountains and the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast. The city has bowling greens, tennis and squash courts and golf clubs with grand views of the Indian Ocean. The city's ancestry is evident. Against a typically African backdrop, strong links with England and traces of the German lineage are found. Several well-preserved examples of 19th-century architecture enhance the charm of the city. 
In the hinterland, the Karoo Heartland epitomises the essence of South Africa. Vast open spaces; sparse veld bushes and distant brooding mountains. Sheep and game farming are carried out on a grand scale in the region, where millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the plains, leaving in their wake fossils which attract the attention of paleontologists from all over the world. The tranquil landscape of Frontier Country, studded with historical towns and villages, invites a close scrutiny of its intriguing background of conflict, courage, despair and success. This is where the Xhosa, Dutch and British had their first encounters, leading at first to frequent clashes and later to a cultural learning curve and mutual acceptance. Cape Dutch homes, ornate Victorian buildings and the lime-washed homesteads of the rural Xhosa provide tangible symbols of three vastly different cultures coming together in peaceful coexistence. From East London, the road parallel to the Wild Coast leads through a region of unspoilt grandeur; thick indigenous forests, hilly grasslands and sheer cliffs falling to white, unspoilt beaches. The Wild Coast is one of South Africa's most exciting and unexploited areas, with a special appeal for fishermen all year round. 
Crowned cranes are frequently seen along the coast. The Xhosa people of the district believe that if one of these birds is killed, death will afflict the hunter's family. An easy drive leads to the great sweep of the Amatola Mountains, embellished by stately yellowwood and white stinkwood trees. Scattered about in the foothills and beyond, Xhosa homesteads, circular and thatched, are often grouped around a cattle kraal, usually situated on the ridge of a hill, leaving the fertile valleys free for cultivation. The Northern Ukhahlamba region, dominated by the Southern Drakensberg, is characterised by mountains, sandstone cliffs, green valleys, crystal-clear streams and crisp, clean air. The wildwater fly-fishing is the finest in the country; an unbeatable combination of enormous trout and scenic surroundings. Charming country hotels, hot springs, Bushman paintings, hiking trails and enchanting little towns await your arrival and exciting discoveries are almost guaranteed.
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Last updated : 25-Jul-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 31-Mar-2011