Port Elizabeth, the major city of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, is located on the south east coast of South Africa, approximately 800 km from both Durban and Cape Town and 1 064 km from Johannesburg. Its location on the shore of a large natural bay makes it an important seaport.
The first European believed to set foot at Port Elizabeth was Bartholomew Diaz, on the 14th of September 1486. On account of the bay's unruffled surface he dubbed it Bahia da Lagoa - Bay of the Lagoon. However, the settlement of Port Elizabeth on the shores of Algoa Bay was still far in the future. After the Dutch settled at the Cape of Good Hope, Port Elizabeth would be rediscovered on expedition and the earliest permanent residents were farmers, who capitalised on the fertile soil of the area.
In 1820, about 4 000 British Settlers stepped ashore at Algoa Bay, from where they travelled inland to the Eastern Cape hinterland and midlands. The acting Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Rufane Donkin named the village Port Elizabeth, after his deceased wife, who had died in the Far East.
The Divisional Council of Port Elizabeth was founded in 1856 and the Chamber of Commerce in 1864. Leading industries saw the growth potential of the young Port Elizabeth and started investing in what was to become a major industrial city in South Africa. Development in the 20th century was rapid and the city grew to the fifth largest metropole in the country.
Unfortunately, Port Elizabeth is not a city renowned for tasteful high-rise architecture. The city's CBD is cut off from the Indian Ocean by a sophisticated and efficient, yet unattractive elevated motorway system. The existing high-rise buildings were constructed mainly during the 1960s and 1970s, with the most recent addition (the North End Post Office) dating from the early 1990s.
Port Elizabeth is often referred to as the Detroit of South Africa, with about one third of the country's motor vehicles being assembled in the metropole. Furthermore, it is also home to three major motor tyre manufacturing plants, as well as numerous safety glass manufacturers. Furthermore, the city plays an important role in the manufacturing of chocolates, sweets and soft drinks. Another important industry for Port Elizabeth is naturally tourism. The city boasts splendid beaches and natural scenery, with fine hotels and restaurants. Port Elizabeth also claims to be the South African city that is within closest range of Africa's game "Big Five" - lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard.
Port Elizabeth is home to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (amalgamated from the University of Port Elizabeth, Vista University and Port Elizabeth Technicon), various colleges and fine schools, as well as excellent health care facilities. It is a city serviced well by rail and road connections, has sophisticated harbour operations and an efficient airport. Sporting facilities abound and gambling and entertainment needs are catered for - although the Opera House and Philhormonic Orchestra have suffered severely under recent budgetary constraints.
The Nelson Mandela Metropole is currently home to 1.5 million people and covers an area of 1 845 square kilometres. The city of Port Elizabeth is expecting renewed interest and economic growth with the construction of the Coega deep water port and duty free trade environment initiative.