Eastern Cape

East London, Eastern Cape

East London (Afrikaans: Oos-Londen, Xhosa: eMonti) is a city on the southeast coast of South Africa, situated in the Eastern Cape Province at 32.97°S and 27.87°E. The city is situated on the Indian Ocean coast, between the Buffalo River, and the Nahoon River, and is the country's only river port. East London today has a population of 250,000, with over 700,000 in the metropolitan area. East London hosted a match from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003.

Geography and climate

Climate Table
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Highest recorded temperature (°C) 36 37 36 36 37 32 34 38 42 39 35 38 42
Average daily maximum temperature (°C) 26 26 25 24 23 21 21 21 21 22 23 25 23
Average daily minimum temperature (°C) 18 19 18 15 13 11 10 11 12 14 16 17 14
Lowest recorded temperature (°C) 12 13 10 8 5 3 3 4 5 6 9 8 3
Average monthly precipitation (mm) 69 92 105 83 52 40 47 78 80 102 110 63 921
Average number of rain days (>= 1 mm) 13 12 13 9 8 6 5 7 10 13 13 12 121
Source: South African Weather Service


The city formed around the only river port in South Africa, and was originally known as Port Rex. This settlement on the West Bank was the nucleus of the town of East London, which was later elevated to city status in 1914.

During the early to mid-1800 Frontier wars between the British settlers and the local Xhosa inhabitants, East London served as a supply port to service the military headquarters at nearby King William’s Town, about thirty miles away. A British fort, Fort Glamorgan, was built on the West Bank in 1847, and annexed to the Cape Colony that same year. This fort was one of a series of forts the British built, that included Fort Murray, Fort White, Fort Hare and Fort Beaufort, in the border area that became known as British Kaffraria.

With later development of the port came the settlement of permanent residents, including German settlers, most of whom were bachelors. In 1857 the British Government took pity on them and a cargo of 157 Irish girls arrived to help lift morale.

The existing port, in the mouth of the Buffalo River, adjoining the Indian Ocean, has been operating since 1870. The advent of the railway on the east bank in 1876 added momentum to ongoing development of the area into today’s thriving city of East London.

The unusual double-decker bridge over the Buffalo River was completed in 1935 and to this day, is the only bridge of its type in South Africa. Modern day attractions include the East London Museum housing the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish, thought to be extinct, discovered live there by fishermen in 1938, and numerous memorial statues. The city is well-known as a surfing mecca, and its beaches are among the best in the country.

In 1959, the Prince George Circuit race circuit opened; it hosted three Formula One South African Grand Prix races in the 1960s. In 2000, East London became part of the municipality of Buffalo City, also consisting of King William's Town and Bhisho.

In 1961, areas on either side of East London were declared Bantu homelands. Ciskei to the west and Transkei to the East. East London finding herself almost surrounded, except to the north, became very unsettled during the Apartheid era. The editor of the local newspaper, the Daily Dispatch, was the late Donald Woods. This newspaper broke the story of the murder of Steve Biko, a Pan Africanist leader and author of the book I write what I like, at the hands of South African security police in Port Elizabeth, in September 1977. The story of Donald Woods was recorded in a Hollywood film called Cry Freedom. A prominent statue of Steve Biko now stands outside the East London City Hall.

The period of international sanctions which followed in the 1980s damaged the economy of East London's harbour. Enormous investment in recent years, by corporations such as Daimler Chrysler, has resulted in the harbour being developed to include a new car terminal.


East London is the second largest industrial centre in the province. The motor industry is the dominant employer. A major Daimler plant is located near the harbour, manufacturing Mercedes-Benz vehicles for the local market, as well as exporting to the United States. Other industries include clothing, textiles, pharmaceuticals and food processing.

From the 1960s until 1994, the apartheid government created tax and wage incentives to attract industries in the former black independent states, including nearby Ciskei. Investment thus flowed into surrounding areas such as Fort Jackson and Dimbaza, leaving East London in relative isolation. The militant union activity of the time was not conducive to productivity or good labour relations. Infrastructure deteriorated and port activity wound down.

To encourage investment in East London, the East London Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) has been established on the West Bank, close to both the port and airport. 1500ha of land has been made available, and the site is one of four duty-free development areas in South Africa.

East London has good transport links with the rest of South Africa. The N2 highway connecting Cape Town and Durban bypasses the city, while the N6 highway joins East London with the inland city of Bloemfontein. The East London Airport, 10km from the city centre, has daily flights to all major South African cities.


Cricket is very popular around East London as with South Africa as a whole. A combined Border/Eastern Province cricket side known as the Warriors take part in the top provincial competition. The Proteas wicket keeper Mark Boucher who currently holds the Test Record for most dismissals by a wicketkeeper is from East London.

Club rugby is popular in East London and South Africa as a whole, with the Border Bulldogs standing out as the Border region's premier club. Most national games in East London are played at the ABSA_Group_Limited stadium which holds around 15000 people. East London schools have produced many fine rugby players, including (in recent times) Andre Vos, Keith and Mark Andrews, Christiaan Scholtz, Brent Russell, Rory Kockott, Akona and Odwa Ndungane, Keegan Daniel. South African Flanker Solly Tybilika is currently playing for the Border Bulldogs.

Motocross is also popular and many national events are held in the area surrounding East London, due to the terrain there and in Transkei. East London is home to the ELMCC (East London Motor Cycle Club), which organises most of the motor cycle events in the area.


East London's tourism industry has grown greatly over the past few years. The City is being marketed as Buffalo City though, causing many to be confused. Apart from this obstacle local businesses are thriving, with a great deal of investment in the area, drawing visitors from around the world. East London is relatively small so there are only a few hotels, making a perfect gap in the market for bed & breakfasts to offer accommodation.

The East Coast Resorts (up the coast toward Durban) are a fantastic collection of small villages with many people living there (only 20min to East London on the highway) but a very tranquil setting for a family holiday.

Resorts include: Yellowsands, Glen Eden, Queensbury Bay, Cintsa (now spelt "Chintsa") West and Cintsa East.



East London is a family city; many tourists from inland (fondly known as "Vaalies" because most are from the old Transvaal) come to East London to enjoy the mild temperatures and the fantastic beaches, surf spots and fishing.

  • Nahoon Beach,
  • Nahoon Reef,
  • Nahoon River Mouth,
  • Bonza Bay Beach,
  • Eastern Beach,
  • Leechers Bay,
  • Orient Beach,
  • Cove Rock,
  • Winterstrand,
  • Igoda Beach,
  • Gonubie Main Beach (or Gonubie Bay),
  • Black Rock and many more within 30min drive along the East Coast Resorts road.


The main languages spoken in East London are English, Xhosa and Afrikaans. The city is home to a large number of retirees, thanks to the mild climate and holiday atmosphere.

Municipal Demarcation Board statistics

The Municipal Demarcation Board provides extensive demographics about all urban areas, which include the following demographics about Buffalo City. These figures exclude people whose status is unknown:General

  • Number of households: 160 454
  • Black residents: 563 776
  • Coloured residents: 38 391
  • Indian residents: 4 692
  • White residents: 70 520
  • Male residents: 321 992
  • Female residents: 360 023 Age breakdown
  • Under four: 61 234
  • 5-19: 214 987
  • 20-29: 127 841
  • 30-49: 176 675
  • 50-64: 59 934
  • Over 65: 34 824 Employment
  • Employed: 160 156
  • Unemployed: 101 349 Occupation
  • Senior management: 6 663
  • Professional: 17 022
  • Technical: 12 591
  • Clerks: 12 604
  • Service related: 14 484
  • Skilled: 3 294
  • Craft and trade: 21 715
  • Plant machine: 12 279
  • Elementary: 39 440 Annual individual income ('000)
  • None: 414 152
  • R1 to 24: 114 706
  • R23 to R60: 62 965
  • R60 to RR120: 39 442
  • R120 to R180: 30 351
  • R180 to R300: 25 602
  • R300 to R420: 14 744
  • R420 to R540: 10 069
  • R540 to R720: 8 274
  • R720 to R960: 3 930
  • R960 to R1,32m: 2 588
  • R1,32m to R1,92m: 1 403
  • R1,9m to R3,6m: 816
  • Over R3,6m: 281


East London forms a constituent part of the Buffalo City Local Municipality and is the seat of that municipality.

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