(Port Elizabeth) – Usually noted for its sedate lifestyle and unassuming residents, Port Elizabeth is undergoing a quiet revival, which is getting some global attention in the form of a focus feature by the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
The feature reads:
A ripple of rejuvenation is running through Port Elizabeth (PE), an upswing that, in part, has been cultivated by the city’s youth who have renewed hope in PE’s potential, reinventing South Africa’s hidden gem as a post-industrial cross-cultural hotspot.
Experience the city by heading south along the 5km-long beachfront promenade crossing the Humewood and Summerstrand neighbourhoods. Take a dip at the best swimming locations in South Africa: Kings Beach, Hobie Beach, and the slightly wilder Pollock Beach. As with California’s Venice Beach this strip is a hive of activity, with runners, ironmen, cyclists and ocean-lovers all comfortably staking their claim on the stretch of ample strand.
The area known as Central is the museum and gallery district, the public art epicentre, and high-traffic Afro-cosmopolitan creative zone. Neighbouring Richmond Hill is a gastronome’s delight.
To the east are Port Elizabeth’s townships with their vibrant music, street life and shisa nyamas (Zulu for “burnt meat”/ barbecues). They feature a thumping underground music scene, which originally nurtured jazz greats such as Feya Faku and legends The Genuines Band. It’s best to visit these areas with a trusted local by your side.
Always a migrant city, its fortunes and failures have been tied to industry, maritime and motor, and the people who flowed in and out. In the absence of any defining landmarks, it is the city’s people who shape its contours.
Some of South Africa’s greatest and most gruesome moments played out in or near PE: the game-changing arrival of the 1820 British settlers who founded the town; the launch of the 1950s defiance campaign in New Brighton; apartheid; the first-ever black rugby clubs; and industrial revolutions.
Port Elizabeth is a blue-collar town with white-collar aspirations. For a while there was boom, through the middle decades of the 20th century when the motor industry, in Ford and Volkswagen, drove development. But global corporates eventually reacted to pressure over apartheid and when Ford pulled out in the 1980s, the city stumbled, becoming the “Ghost on the Coast”.
The historical inner city was abandoned, as residents fled to a sprawling suburbia and leaving behind urban decay. Then, in 2007, the Mandela Bay Development Agency’s revitalisation strategy saw the city claw back its former glory, building-by-building, street-by-street.
Now PE is the place to meet people to collaborate with, and to test, incubate and play with ideas. It lives up to its nickname, the “friendly city”. Everything’s on tap: beaches, bars, music, art, wacky people, photographic spaces and places, bush and nature, an outdoor lifestyle to revel in – and a perpetual but not uneasy clash of culture. It’s like a washed-out, weird kaleidoscope full of heyday and hope.
Click here for the full article which appeared in The Guardian, titled: The alternative city guide to Port Elizabeth, South Africa