King William’s Town - Steeped in History

King William’s Town - Steeped in History

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Affectionately known by locals as ‘King’, King William’s Town is situated on the banks of the Buffalo River in the Eastern Cape, some 40 minutes drive from East London.

The second most populous city in the Buffalo City Municipality, the town is nestled at the foot of the Amatola Mountains in the heart of the region’s agricultural district. King William’s Town owes its existence to the tenacity of Scottish missionary John Brownlee, who established the Buffalo Mission Station on the banks of the Buffalo River in January 1826. He is also credited with leading the group of missionaries who developed the town’s first post office, today one of the oldest in the country.

The mission buildings were burnt twice, one in a Xhosa attack in 1835 and again in the ’War of the Ax’ in 1846, but Brownlee remained undaunted, rebuilding on each occasion. Thomas Baines’ ink and brush sketches of the town, executed in 1852, reveal a town dominated by forts, barracks, hospital and provost prison.

The area’s economy centred on cattle and sheep farming while the town has a thriving industry which produces textiles, soap, candles, sweets, cartons and clothing. Considered one of the most interesting towns in the region, King William’s Town has a number of museums, one of which houses the body of Huberta the hippo, who famously walked some 1 600kms across KwaZulu-Natal to the Eastern Cape in the 1900s.

In November 1928, Huberta who thinking she was male, was initially named Hubert by a journalist covering her story, took two and a half years to complete the journey from St Lucia in northern KwaZulu-Natal to the town. By the time she arrived she had crossed 122 rivers, had become an international celebrity and as such was declared Royal Game. Although it was deemed illegal to hunt her, sadly she was soon shot by three hunters who were subsequently fined £25 amidst an outcry from the public who had become endured to the gentle giant. In addition to Huberta, the Amathole Museum houses the biggest collection of mammals in Africa and is well worth a visit.

King William’s Town was associated with political unrest during the apartheid era and is closely associated with the leader of the Black Consciousness movement, Steve Biko, who was born - and is buried - in the township of Ginsberg just outside the town. Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki also hail from the area, which is only a short distance from Umtata. The Nelson Mandela Route, which leads from King William’s Town to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Umtata, has become a popular tourist attraction.

The botanical gardens are renowned and the streets are lined with jacaranda trees, a magnificent spectacle when they flower in spring. For the active outdoor enthusiast, the challenging 100km Amatola hiking trail is only 22kms from the town and the Rooikrans and Maden dams are nearby, offering great fishing and water sport opportunities.

In the past 12 months there have been a total of 39 property transfers in central King Williams Town. The average price paid for a freehold property hovered around R678 000. The highest price achieved in the sector however, was R1.6-million. The average price paid for a sectional title unit was R556 000, although the highest price paid for a unit in this area was R950 000.


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