The town, which lies in the heart of the Eastern Cape, is often merely glimpsed from the window as travellers speed through on the N2, en-route to destinations such as East London or Port Elizabeth. One of the larger towns in this rural part of South Africa, Mthatha has over the years been a thriving trading post for residents of the townships surrounding the town.
Formerly known as Umtata (it was renamed Mthatha in 2004), much of the town’s early history has a colonial flavour, as the town was used by the British as a military garrison in 1882. Many of the building reflect a bygone era, particularly those such as the Sandstone City Hall and the Bhunga Building, which was built in 1930s and which is home to one of three Nelson Mandela museums in South Africa.
The area is often referred to as ‘Madiba Country’ and is the closest business hub to Mveso, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. The story of Nelson Mandela’s ‘long walk to freedom’ and his contribution to the struggle is displayed in the town’s museum, visited by thousands of tourists all year round. When Mandela retired from the presidency in June 1999, he returned to live in his home town of Qunu, just outside Mthatha.
In the early 1970s the town became a governmental administrative centre and, being the capital of the then Transkei, boasted fairly well-established infrastructure. A campus of the University of Fort Hare was established in the town to cater for the tertiary needs of the province. After the Transkei gained independence in 1977, the establishment was renamed the University of the Transkei, which has since been integrated into the Walter Sisulu University.
Steeped in Xhosa tradition and with many of the women still choosing to wear traditional ochre-coloured African attire, the town displays all the facets of the vibrant heritage that has made South Africa a multi-cultural nation. Many of the young boys living in these rural parts of the country still take part in the traditional ‘coming-of-age’ ceremony and domestic animals and cattle wandering along the roadside are commonplace, adding to the character of the region.
Residential property statistics recently released by Lightstone reveal that there have 32 transfers in the area in the last 12 months. All sales fell into the freehold sector of the market and the average price was R389 000.
Residential property averages have dropped dramatically since 2007 when averages totalled R1 368-million. This could be attributed to the increased migration of local residents who, after apartheid was dismantled, moved to the larger cities in search of better opportunities. However, this tide may be turning and what is interesting to note is that Lightstone reports that younger purchasers, who fall into the age category of 18 to 35 years, now make up 35 percent of those investing in the area.