In Uitenhage you can still find buildings from the 1800s in their original form. The Old Drostdy Museum built in 1809 is now the home of the Uitenhage Africana Museum. It is the ideal setting through which to experience the history of Uitenhage.
The Old Railway Station built in 1875 which is reputed as one of the oldest railway stations in South Africa is another historical attraction found in Uitenhage. Vintage locomotives, a variety of coaches and period furniture and equipment are on display in this museum.
The Cuyler Manor Museum is a living museum that arranges demonstrations of traditional activities like soap and candle-making, baking and weaving.
The Groendal Wilderness Reserve is also situated in Uitenhage. The reserve is the perfect place to go on a hike or have a picnic while listening to the birds singing.
Known as the Garden Town, Uitenhage was first a farming community on the banks of the Swartkops River. Now it is a thriving commercial and industrial town but has managed to keep its picturesque beauty.
Volkswagen Factory the biggest car factory on the African continent is located here in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality.

In 1804 Commissioner-General Jacob Uitenhage de Mist undertook an extended survey of the border regions of the Cape. As a result of this he put forward a number of proposals aimed at improving colonial administration over these areas. One such involved the separation of the eastern regions, then falling under Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet, and their consolidation into a new administrative district. This proposal was accepted and on 25 April 1804 the Governor of the Cape, JW Janssens, proclaimed the new district of Uitenhage, and named it in honour of De Mist. The task of finding a suitable location for its administrative centre was entrusted to Captain Ludwig Alberti, Commanding Officer of Fort Frederick at Algoa Bay. His choice fell upon the Zwartkops River valley, a green and fertile area about 40 km north west of Algoa Bay, which was first settled by the Dutch in 1790. In November 1804 the farm Hartebeeste River, belonging to the widow Scheepers, was purchased by the Government and became the site for the new village. Later that year Henry Lichtenstein visited the area and reported that:

"A mile from hence, at the place of the Widow Schepers, ground has been laid out for a Drosty, and a village adjoining to it, which is to be the centre point of a new district: it is to be called after the family name of the Commissary-general, Uitenhage." (1812: 289)

As it ultimately transpired, Alberti's choice of the site was excellent and, over the years, visitors to the town have found cause to praise its many advantages, all the more so after the discovery of a reliable and abundant source of water from local springs. La Trobe (1818) and Steedman (1835) were impressed with its picturesque setting on the bank of the Swartkops River, and its climate was regarded as being so healthy that Cape Town patients were often referred by their doctors to recuperate there (Le Cordeur 1981).

When Alberti originally laid out the town, his military background was clearly evident in its plan, which closely resembled that of an army camp. The boundary was set out in a square with the Drostdy steps at its geometrical centre. The symbolism of this was clearly evident, and differed markedly from the plan normally adopted by Dutch colonial settlements of that time which centred upon a village church and its attendant nachtmaal square. In this case also, a stretch of agricultural land, which was always attached to a Drostdy to allow the Magistrate to supplement his meagre salary, was allocated directly in front of the Drostdy, thus setting some distance between the main administrative buildings and the growing settlement below (Lewcock 1963:398). The initial aspect of Uitenhage therefore, must have been more like a manorial estate than that of a colonial village. Understandably, the presence of a farm in the heart of the settlement prevented urban development from taking place in the southern quadrant of the town for a long time thereafter. At the outset only four streets were laid out: Cuyler, John and Baird Streets intersecting at right angles with Caledon Street. (Anon 1813)

In 1811 Uitenhage became the focus for military operations against the amaXhosa in the frontier war of 1811-12, and in 1815 its garrison played a leading role in the suppression of the Slachter's Nek rebellion. However the benefits of a military economy did not stay with Uitenhage for very long, and as the frontier of the Cape was pushed ever eastward, so then the lucrative military and black tribal markets moved, at first into the Albany, and then into British Kaffraria.

Originally, in order to encourage settlement in the new town, plots of 1 morgen, or approximately 2.1 acres, were offered free to new residents, on the condition that they be built upon within 6 months of their grant (Cory 1919:141) These conditions were changed after the British Occupation in 1806 when a price of 30 rix-dollars was set per plot and construction could take place within 18 months of purchase. After 1814 plots were sold by public auction (Calitz, 1959:18-34.). Despite such favourable terms, the demand for stands remained low and by 1813 only 31 plots had been sold and about 20 houses erected, all of which were concentrated in Cuyler and Caledon Streets (Anon 1813). At the same time work was begun on the construction of the necessary government buildings for the administration of the new district. These included a Drostdy, built in 1804-1809, a prison in 1811-12, the court house in 1813-15, the Messenger's House in 1813-15, and the house of the Secretary, in 1813-14, all of which were designed in the prevailing Cape Dutch idiom of the time. All of these were located on the upper side of Caledon Street, resulting in a row of public buildings looking down upon the residential area to the south west.

Progress in the establishment of religious and educational structures was equally slow. The town was relatively small, and because its population was split into a number of denominations, none of these were large enough to afford their own building. A temporary church for the Dutch Reformed community, which doubled as a school, was completed in 1811, but its first permanent building, designed in a neo-classical style was not finished until 1843. The Rose Lane Church, erected by the London Mission Society, was only consecrated in about 1834.

Similarly, the schooling of children also suffered, and although classes for a small group began in 1814, and in 1823 a school for the Khoikhoi community was allowed to meet in the government buildings, these were held on borrowed premises, and it was not until 1840 that a government school for boys was established (Noble 1875).

Following the devastating floods, which hit the Eastern Cape in 1823, many English settlers who had arrived in the country in 1820 began to drift into towns. Most went to Grahamstown, but some also came to Uitenhage. They brought with them English customs as well as ideas about architecture which differed markedly from those of the local Dutch community, and after a while their Georgian tastes began to find expression in the town's buildings, often producing an interesting fusion of aesthetics. Another important development took place in 1829 when the springs on the farm Sandfontein, situated 8km above Uitenhage, were purchased by the government and added to its commonage. The town was now assured of a reliable and abundant source of water, which soon manifested itself in a noticeable greening of its streets, something which travellers and local residents were not slow to point out. This water also enabled people to earn a living from their vegetable and fruit gardens, while the culverts on either side of the street gave the town a bucolic and pastoral atmosphere. In December 1838 James Backhouse visited here and reported as follows:

"In the morning we returned to Uitenhage, which is a pretty, English-looking town, containing about 315 houses, consisting of a few streets crossing at right angles: it is well watered from a very copious spring, situated on the karroo hills above the town." (1844: 163)

Fifteen years later, in May 1853, Thomas Baines was also impressed:

"The town is situated near the left bank of the Zwartkops River, about twelve miles from the sea; but is supplied with water by a small spring which, issuing from the hills, pours through the channels on either side the streets more than two million and a half gallons daily. Rows of beautiful trees overhang the water, and the extensive orchards, teeming with every tropical and European delicacy, almost hide the houses from the view. A small battery, in an unfinished condition, overlooks the town and racecourse" (1964: 304)


The prosperity of the town continued to be based upon the sale of fresh produce until 1843, when a number of wool-washeries began to be established on the banks of the Zwartkops River. The first factory was erected by FH Lange, but the extreme softness of the local river water soon led others to follow his example: Peche in 1846, Christian Heugh and John Lear in 1849, Niven in 1861, Marshall and Appleby in 1865, Thomas Witheridge Gubb (Riverside) in 1866, and Henry William Inggs (Springfields) in 1867. Uitenhage's "Snow White", as the washed wool became known, became internationally known, and in due course the town became the main centre of wool-washing for the Cape.

Wool-washeries therefore played an important role in the economic and structural development of the town, and by 1875 ten such concerns had been established in its vicinity, involving a capital investment of £200,000 (Noble, 1875). About 100,000 bales of wool were washed annually and exported through the Port Elizabeth harbour. The industry made extensive use of steam machinery and gave employment to a large number of unskilled labourers. However, apart from the growth of wool-washing activities, the period 1841-1875 was not an era of great economic expansion for the Uitenhage. Hampered by the rapid growth of the neighbouring centres of Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown, development was slow and, after a time, it acquired for itself the nickname of "Sleepy Hollow". (Redgrave, 1947: 312)

After 1874 the industry began a slow decline as increasing costs and a failure to modernise equipment forced various firms to either close down or to amalgamate with competitors. By this time, however, preparation for the town's next stage of economic development was already in place. Construction of the Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage railway had begun on 9 January 1872, and the line reached Uitenhage on 23 September 1875. At about the same time, work was begun in the town on the erection of railway locomotive workshops to serve the Midlands railway system, and by 1904 the Cape Railways had become the major economic force in Uitenhage.

The location in Uitenhage of an administrative and maintenance centre for the Cape Railways was to have important repercussions for the town. Not only did this provide many old residents with a new source of employment, but it also brought new residents whose families required additional facilities. They, in their turn, attracted new people willing to provide a service infrastructure. Thus, while the 1865 census indicated that Uitenhage had a population of 3,342, which had only risen fractionally to 3,693 by 1875, by 1891 this number stood at 5,331, and by 1904 it was 12,193, of whom 6,158 were literate. In 1875 the census also indicated that Bethelsdorp, a station of the London Missionary Society, whose settlement lies alongside Uitenhage, had a population of 400 persons. In 1891 this number had dropped to 333, but by 1904 it had risen to 961 residents.

After this time the predominantly rural character of the town began to change dramatically. In 1875 temporary workshops for the Midland Railway System were built in Uitenhage, followed by permanent ones in 1876 (Uitenhage Chronicle). Their establishment had a tremendous impact upon the town, where it remained its single most important industry for the next 35 years, specialising in the building of coaches and the repair of locomotives. The population and its purchasing power was also greatly expanded when large numbers of English mechanics, employed at the Workshops, settled with their families in Uitenhage (Sellick, 1904). Although this led to a sharp increase in its population and in the number of assessable properties, this collective prosperity did not necessarily bring about the affluence of all of its residents. This is illustrated by the large number of lower income houses built at that time, and the absence of residences at the opposite end of the socio-economic scale. Indeed, during this time the town attained a semi-industrial character and in 1907 it was described as being reminiscent of "an English workingman's town, for at knocking off time a thousand grimy workmen may be seen in work attire returning from labour". (Burton 1903)

In 1877 the town was incorporated as a borough, bringing with it the creation of a Town Council (Act No 30 of 1877). Almost immediately Uitenhage's citizens began to agitate for the provision of a proper Town Hall, which was then completed in 1882. It was also during this period that Victorian aesthetics became dominant in South Africa's architecture, involving not only the design of new structures, but also the improvement of many older buildings, whose facades were upgraded by the addition of such typical Victorian elements as cast iron verandahs and fretted timber details.

A typical example of this period was the town's new government offices, designed by RE Wright, an architect employed by the Public Works Department, which cost ÁƒÂ¢Á¢Â€ÂšÂ¤12,000 to erect. Construction began in 1896, and although work had yet to be completed, on 22 June 1897 it became the focus of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee festivities when its ornate tower was named in her honour. In January 1897 the Premier of the Cape, Sir Gordon Spriggs, officially opened the building (Herholdt 1988: 182). Writing in 1904 Sellick held it to be "one of the handsomest buildings of its kind", stating that:

"The square, massive clock tower, 100 feet high ... is a prominent landmark. Built of brick, and tastefully relieved by cement coping, the buildings are an ornament to the town and source of pride to the inhabitants. The Post Office is situated at the corner facing Church and Caledon streets, and the box lobby is large and spacious. The sorting and telegraph rooms are at the back, and are fitted with the latest contrivances." (1904: 181)

For its part the Uitenhage Times of 12 January 1898 described the post office interior as follows:

"There are nine rooms in the Post Office department ... There is a panelled ceiling in (the circulating room), and a cornice 30 inches deep. The counter, post restante, and other furniture in the office are made of stinkwood, French polished. The floor is covered with ruby pattern tiles and 18 inches skirting."

Although, in retrospect it seems doubtful that the words "handsome" an "tasteful" could be applied to this pile without placing one's tongue firmly in the cheek, the building remained a symbol of white government in the region well into the 20th Century, and in the 1980s was taken over by the Apartheid Government's Security Police as their headquarters in the Eastern Cape. Fortunately no one had the idea of placing a limpet mine among its preeminently combustible timbers, and the building survives untouched to the present day.

After 1901, the post-war economic depression caused the demand for houses and other buildings to subside, leaving the town largely untouched by the subsequent waves of Edwardian and Georgian architecture. As a result, Uitenhage was locked into an aesthetic time-frame which allowed its Victorian and largely residential character to survive well into the 1960s. It was during this time that visible class differences began to emerge in its urban fabric. The area around the Railway Workshops, for example, became a predominantly white, lower working class suburb, whose homes were densely packed on small sites, with little variation in their basic plan, with a front verandah and little or no garden. This promoted a street-facing culture, where the road became an extension of the internal living space, serving alternatively as an area for socializing, a children's playground, and for public gathering.

The more affluent citizens of Uitenhage, on the other hand, tended to live near to or about the Magennis Park area, on College Hill and Cannon Hill, which offered sweeping views of the town and its surrounding landscape. Their houses were often architect designed, and were well set back on large stands with exotic gardens. Thus, from the very beginning, the urban fabric of Uitenhage was used to define class differences between its citizens, where, the upper part of town signified political power, wealth and dominant social standing, and the lower town was relegated to the working classes, and eventually, the poor and politically dispossessed.

Nonetheless, it should be born in mind that much of the urban fabric which charmed so many visitors to Uitenhage during the last century survived with relatively little change up to the 1960s, giving its residents a grace and quality of lifestyle that few other towns in the Eastern Cape could match. In many ways, therefore, the brutalization of its built environment coincided with the imposition of Group Areas legislation and Apartheid city planning over the town. The connections between the two are inescapable.


After 1875 the prominence of Uitenhage's woolwashing industry began to wane. At its height its ten steam-driven plants employed about 800 workers, but the scab epidemic which spread throughout southern Africa had a devastating effect upon the industry, and by 1904 the last two surviving companies, Gubb and Inggs, were forced into a merger which ultimately ensured their survival.


KwaNobuhle is a dormitory town situated some four kilometers south of Uitenhage, near Port Elizabeth, in the eastern Cape region (figure 1). By 1987 it had a predominantly black population of about 113,117 persons living on an estimated 17,332 residential sites (Setplan, 1986: figure 2). The average density for the area was calculated at 6.9 persons per stand.

The town, whose name in Xhosa literally means "a place of beauty", traces its origins back to 1967. It was established in order to house those residents of the old Uitenhage suburbs of Langa, Xaba and New Gubbs who, at that time, were being displaced from their homes by the authorities under provisions of the Group Areas Act. Although these areas included many older and more substantial brick dwellings, over the years these had been extended by means of corrugated iron and timber lean-to shacks. Thus many of these houses were relatively large and, owing to residential pressures in the area, had a high tenancy rate. The resultant population densities threatened to overload the existing infrastructure and, instead of extending the residential framework, the Uitenhage Municipality, under whose jurisdiction these areas fell, chose the politically more palatable option of building a new settlement outside the town. As a result kwaNobuhle Extension 1, comprising some 2,500 residential sites, was established in 1967. Houses were built by the Municipality on the NE 51/6 model (Calderwood, 1953), consisting of a four-roomed brick structure roofed over with corrugated asbestos sheeting. No ceilings or internal doors were provided and all ablution facilities were located separate from the main house to the rear of the stand. Although roads were already tarred, electricity was only made available to business stands and a small number of neighbouring residences. Road lighting was also limited to a few streets.

Although official reasons given at the time for the removal of people from Uitenhage to kwaNobuhle were unclear and often contradictory, it has since become obvious that this land was required by the town's planners for other residential uses. Removals were made on a block-by-block basis and were accompanied by the wholesale demolition of the residents' old homes. Some efforts were made to also accommodate those families who did not own homes in the old areas, but official lists of them were by no means complete and many were left behind. The authorities also failed to take into account those tenants who were unmarried and thus did not qualify for housing in the new areas. A combination of these factors had the effect of increasing residential densities in those dwellings left standing thereby causing a deterioration in their inhabitants' quality of life.

The removal, at that time, of families from Langa, Xaba and New Gubbs does not appear to have been done forcibly. However many people felt that they had been given little choice in the matter and the move was not a popular one among the people concerned. KwaNobuhle was considered to be windy, removed from town's commercial centre and devoid of the social support groups and amenities which were offered by the older and more established suburbs. House rentals and service levies also stood at about R13.00 per month, a figure which few families could apparently afford at that time. As a result many people are known to have returned back to their old suburbs in Uitenhage, thus further increasing housing pressures in those areas. In many cases residents rebuilt their homes on their previous sites leading to the idiosyncratic sight of lean-to shacks standing on the surviving brick plinths of formerly substantial and well-to-do houses.

In spite of such resistance and the objections posed by Uitenhage's black citizens, kwaNobuhle has continued to expand (figure 2). The town virtually doubled its size in 1974 with the proclamation of Extension 2 and by 1980 it had reached 24% of its present size. Further township developments took place in 1980 and in 1984 with the establishment of Extensions 3, 4A and 4B (Setplan, 1986: figure 2). However the town was to gain 42% of its present population in a brief seven months, between May and November 1986, when the residents of the old Uitenhage suburb of Xaba, also known to whites as Kabah, were resettled in kwaNobuhle. Although the authorities concerned have insisted that residents made this move voluntarily, many of the people involved have claimed that they were removed forcibly from their homes.

Such rapid expansion of the town's population necessitated the proclamation, in quick order, of Extensions 4C, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Official sources have estimated that between 35,258 and 47,423 people were involved in this removal (Setplan, 1986: figure 2) although other sources have placed this figure closer to 80,000 persons (Riordan, 1986). A further three suburbs, involving a total of 3000 new stands, are being planned for development in 1988 with a view to housing the last remaining inhabitants of the Uitenhage suburb of Langa.

Briefly put, expansion has occurred as follows:

Suburb Number        Number of Stands                Date Developed
Extension 1                             2500                            1967
Extension 2                             2000                            1974-75
Extension 3                             1815                            1980-81
Extension 4                             3714                            1984-85
Extension 5                             187                              1984-85
Extension 6                             1012                            1986
Extension 7                             2071                            1986
Extension 8 (A & B)               4033                            1986

Although these suburbs have not been awarded official names to date, a popular nomenclature has arisen in many of their cases. Since the declaration of the 1985 State of Emergency, Extension 1 and Extension 2 have become known as "Angola" and "Mocambique" respectively. Their analogy to war zones in the minds of the residents is inescapable. Extension 4, on the other hand, displays distinct middle-class aspirations and parts of it have become known as "Comfihomes" after one of the building firms which erected houses there. Other areas of Extension 4 are currently also referred to as "Volksville" owing to the high percentage of Volkswagen employees who live there. Extensions 5, 6, 7 and 8 and parts of Extension 4 are called "Tyoksville" or "Shackville" and owe this name predominantly to the nature of their housing. In more recent times however, Tyoksville has also become known as Khayelitsha, a Xhosa name meaning "New Home". The socio-economic nature of these suburbs also tends to vary considerably. Extensions 1 and 2 were developed by the Uitenhage Municipality and consist almost entirely of NE 51/6 dwellings planned and built as a low-income mass-housing project. Extension 3 was developed by the Bantu Affairs Administration Board (BAAB) but its housing reflects a mixture of the NE 51/6 and the more comfortable and larger NE 51/9 which incorporated an inside bathroom in its structure. The decreasing involvement of Governmental agencies in the construction of housing becomes evident in those parts of Extension 4 developed before 1986, that is to say Sections 4A and 4B, which have a mixture of government-built NE 51/9s and more conventional contractor-built houses. The BAAB however was responsible for the infrastructural development of Extension 4 as a whole. Extensions 4C, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are currently made up almost entirely of owner-built shacks constructed in a variety of scrap materials although in some isolated cases, contractor-built houses are beginning to replace the original lean-to structures. By 1987 Extension 4C was the best developed of these last-mentioned suburbs, being already endowed with a full reticulated infrastructure whilst the others suffered from a rudimentary water delivery and waste removal system and many of their roads were no better than muddy quagmires.

A small number of single sex hostel rooms were also available in kwaNobuhle but as this involved less than 300 persons, their influence on the residential fabric of the town could be considered to be negligible.

The administration of the town has been, over the years, the responsibility of a number of bodies. At its onset, in 1967, this fell to the Uitenhage Municipality but in 1973 its functions were taken over by the Bantu Affairs Administration Board, an agency of the central government department of Bantu Administration. In 1979 this body was incorporated into the larger Eastern Cape Administration Board, although its relationship to central government remained essentially unchanged. Finally, in 1983, the kwaNobuhle Town Council was established and its local administration was reconstituted as a municipality.

Although the residential sector of the town initially underwent rapid expansion, development in other areas was slow to follow, and by 1987 kwaNobuhle boasted of four small clinics, a day hospital, two high schools, fourteen primary schools, three police stations, one library and a number of churches. The recently completed Civic Centre also included a Fire Station. Despite this there was little economic development: the town lacked a recognisable civic heart, it had no centralised shopping area and retail business facilities were only established on a scattered and suburban basis, much along the lines established previously by Apartheid City planners in Pretoria. There were no factories, electrification was slow in implementation, and although Extensions 1 to 4 all had street lighting, domestic power reticulation was available only to those stands fortunate enough to be located in the immediate vicinity of business sites. Plans to extend full reticulation to all sites in Extension 4 by 1988 were only expected to be finalised in about 1988.

By 1987 the issue of electrification had become particularly bitter in those areas of kwaNobuhle such as Comfihomes and Khayelitsha where residents had already invested in substantial homes. Here, a lack of domestic electricity was forcing families to use alternative and more expensive sources of power, thus denying them the quality of life they felt entitled to and for which they were already paying through their rates.

One of the problems which was already becoming evident in kwaNobuhle in 1987 related to its vehicular accessibility. Although the town was well situated, being located in close proximity to the motorway joining Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth, its sole link to the outside world was via two roadways, only one of which was linked to the town's main employment and shopping centres. This was a prominent feature of Apartheid City planning, designed to seal off the town from the white residential areas during times of civic unrest, this did not necessarily make for good planning on a human scale. In the long term it seemed probable that this single factor would prevent the area from developing a business centre independent of neighbouring Uitenhage, thus reinforcing the "company store" relationship existing between the two communities, designed to promulgate KwaNobuhle's economic dependence upon its neighbour well into the 21st Century.


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25° 21' 7.2", -33° 46' 33.6"