The early history of the area is one of turmoil and war, with East London playing a significant role in the wars between the Boer, British and Xhosa in the mid-1800s. The city served as a supply port to the military headquarters at nearby King William’s Town and the British built a number of forts, including Fort Hare and Fort Beaufort, in the area. These structures are still standing and have become popular tourist attractions for those interested in military history.
Originally called Port Rex, the river port, which is one of East London’s major industry draw cards, has been in operation since the 1870s. Renamed the Port of East London, the harbour has contributed to the success of the city which has, over the decades, grown around the docks. In the 1980s South Africa was placed under international sanctions which had a devastating effect on the local economy.
Substantial investment by corporations such as Daimler Chrysler in the years following the lifting of sanctions threw the port a lifeline and has led to the harbour being developed to include a new car terminal. Handling between 300 and 400 cargo ships per annum, the port has recently been converted to process imports in addition to exports, enhancing this unique harbour’s ranking.
The Eastern Cape is reportedly one of the poorest provinces in the country; however, there are pockets of economic affluence which support the region’s industry, including bustling East London. Dubbed the second largest industrial centre in the region, the city has an approximate population count of 1.8-million people. Industry giants such as Mercedes Benz have manufacturing plants in the area, which is also home to clothing, textile, pharmaceutical and food processing plants.
One of the more popular residential suburbs in East London is Sunnyridge and statistics released by Lightstone reveal that there have been 51 transfers in the area over the last 12 months. The average price paid for a freehold property in the suburb was R821 000 and the sectional title average came in at R748 000. Although the suburb is situated in close proximity to the city centre, the area boasts a number of amenities of its own, including Sunnyridge Primary School and Stirling High School as well as excellent shopping facilities in the form of Hemingways Mall and Beacon Bay Retail Park.
Tourists, lured by the warm Indian Ocean, the temperate climate and the wealth of attractions which include water sports, the East London Zoo and the Mpongo Private Game Reserve are visiting the area in increasing numbers. The local aquarium which has also proved to be a hit with holidaymakers was established in 1931, making it the oldest public aquarium in Southern Africa. In addition to offering visitors a look at the life of various sea creatures, the staff and a large group of volunteer assistants are actively involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine life in the area.
Although smaller than airports in similar centres, the East London Airport still handles approximately 30 flights per day. East London, it seems, is an ideal base, providing convenient access to other regions of the Eastern Cape.