There is more to Uitenhage than meets the eye.
Like the fact that it’s the birthplace of many well-known South Africans including Enoch Sontonga, the man who composed Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the musical Bala family, including brothers Zwai and Loyiso, and Olympic pole-vaulter Okkert Brits.
This industrial town boasts the automotive industry which is one of the region’s biggest employers. Uitenhage, the nearby town of Despatch and the city of Port Elizabeth make up the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
The heartbeat of Uitenhage is undoubtedly Volkswagen South Africa, said to be the largest car manufacturing plant in Africa. Another major manufacturing plant, Goodyear South Africa, is located nearby. However, it’s not all about the automotive industry.
Also known as the Garden Town, Uitenhage feels like a typical town. There is one major main street that’s lined with shops and businesses, going from one end of town to the other, that leads into Langa and Rosedale, with arterial roads branching off into suburbs including Mosel and Penford.
Historical buildings including the Old Drostdy Museum built in 1809, now the home of the Uitenhage Africana Museum and Old Railway Station built in 1875 and regarded as one of the oldest railway stations in South Africa, add to the town’s charm.
Housing varies depending on where in Uitenhage you are and includes RDP-type accommodation in some parts and bigger houses on bigger plots in some of the more affluent suburbs. As the town has expanded modern townhouse complexes have also sprouted up all over.
Uitenhage hosts several popular events every year including the Anibrand Fees and the Uitenhage Street Carnival.
AutoPavilion: this facility, next to the factory’s main entrance, captures Volkswagen's legacy with state-of-the-art technology and includes some original vehicles such as the last Beetle ever made at the Uitenhage plant. Visitors can also go on a tour of the factory in custom-made vehicles and see how several VW models are put together, but these tours need to be booked in advance through AutoPavilion.
Langa Memorial: while this memorial has been allowed to fall into disrepair, it pays homage to a poignant event in Uitenhage’s history – the Langa Massacre of 1985. On March 21 that year, dozens were killed and many more injured while on their way to a funeral on the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960.
Willow Dam: one of Uitenhage’s most popular weekend and public holiday attractions, Willow Dam is an idyllic family picnic spot and hosts the Uitenhage Market on the first Sunday of every month with live music, kids’ entertainment, food and other stalls.
- Riebeek College Girls' High School
- Muir College Boys' High School
- Daniel Pienaar Technical High School
- Molly Blackburn High School
Top health-care facilities:
- Netcare Cuyler Hospital
- Uitenhage Provincial Hospital
"The thing about Uitenhage is that there is a huge sense of community. Maybe it’s because there is not much to do, but events are well attended and churches, mosques and the sport centre are ideal meeting places. Everyone gets dressed up and shows up because you inevitably know someone there and want to show your support.” Eleanor Douglas-Meyers, resident.
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.