King Williams Town, once the wholesale emporium of the Border
Started as a mission station in 1835, King William’s Town (eQonce) was established as a frontier town and became one of the largest trading districts in the Colony. Trading varied from a plethora of produce and services from wool washing, carriage works, steam flour, wool and skins.
The town had a large industrial base producing textiles, soap, candles, sweets, cartons and clothing. However, cattle and sheep ranching still contributed massively to the area's economy.
“Apart from its colonial origins, the town is also known as a cradle of African nationalism, with several early political organisations, including a forerunner of the African National Congress, tracing its origins to the town,” according to Stephanie Victor, curator of history at the Amathole Museum eQonce.
A small group of educated Xhosa elite made a foothold on trade. The town is known for its entrepreneurs – as it is the home of the first independent black newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu, established by J.T. Jabavu in 1884 and the first black-owned hotel in the erstwhile Cape province, established by Paul and Eleanor Xiniwe.
The town’s trade industry, with a current population of nearly 100,000 inhabitants, is characterised by a large formal and informal sector.
“We have a large civil servant contingent, thus a booming service economy,” assured Victor. The town has seen much development owing to its proximity to the provincial capital city of Bhisho. It houses the Amathole Museum, a natural and cultural history museum that houses the second largest collection of mammals in South Africa.
It has maintained its identity as an important centre of the legal profession. There used to be a total of five banks; Cape of Good Hope, Kaffrarian and Standard, British Kaffrarian and Government Savings Banks and four newspapers; Cape Mercury, Kaffrarian Watchman and Imvo Zabantusundu). A century ago, it was a magistracy, a court and a deeds registry were established.
The town also had an ample supply of good water from the Buffalo River. The town stands on the site of the kraal of minor chief Dyani Tshatshu and was named after King William IV of England. In typical African history fashion, King Williams Town’s first settlers are said to have been amaXhosa in the mid- to late 18th century. Prior to that, the area was used by the nomadic Khoesan as grazing land who named the Buffalo River, iQonce.
It forms part of a Transitional Local Council area that incorporates Bisho, Zwelitsha, Dimbaza, Phakamisa, Ilitha and Ndevana.
With the creation of the Ciskei and the establishment of Bhisho on the town’s doorstep, a large contingent of civil servants made King William’s Town home.
This culture continued after 1994, with the town housing the headquarters of many Eastern Cape government departments. In the process, the town has experienced incredible growth over the last 25 years. Today, the bustling town is home to a cosmopolitan community consisting of business, small industry and civil servants.
Info from the Amathole Museum
KWT Game Ranger, one of the best!
Growing up in EC inspired game ranger Eugenia Mkhatshwa from King Williams Town who is regarded as one of the best game rangers in the country. The Senior section ranger in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park has rangers that report to her, and patrols the Tsitsikamma coastline.
"Growing up in the Eastern Cape between the borders of East London and King Williams’ Town, I naturally wanted to become a forester. After tertiary training, I joined the Department of Forestry as a forest conservator in 1998. I was one of the people transferred from the Department to South African National Parks (SANParks)," says Mkhatshwa.
As words of inspiration to aspiring female rangers, she said, "Passion is what will sustain you, so it’s important to have an unshakable love for nature. Then it’s crucial to be able to listen, and be patient. You’ll start out feeling small and then grow into your role which by the way, you have to carve out for yourself in a male-dominated world. You’ll need layers upon layers of tolerance, patience preparedness to put in hours of work- you may not necessarily see outcomes of."
Info supplied by Traveller24
Jonas launches book at Biko Centre
Former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, was scheduled to launch his long-awaited book, After Dawn, Hope after State Capture at the Steve Biko Centre, in Ginsberg, King Williams Town last night (19 August).
The Centre is renowned for bringing elite events to the province since it opened in 2012 as part of their vision to encourage leadership. Jonas, a former East Londoner, is also the former Chief Executive Officer of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation and he established the Coega and EL Industrial Development Zones.
Named after Ginsberg born Black Consciousness leader, Stephen Bantubonke Biko, the Steve Biko Centre is a great resource for the King Williams Town. It serves to address the skills and leadership challenges facing the province by being an intellectual developmental resource centre towards economic freedom.
“Through our content and programming, the Centre uses the legacy of Biko together with the rich tapestry of African history, culture and heritage to assist with the journey of discovery, described by Biko as a quest for true humanity,” said Bruce Waters, Chief Operations Officer for the Steve Biko Foundation, the mother body for the Centre.
The Centre boasts world class conferencing, exhibition and training facilities for use by the community, business, government and tourists. The Centre also implements developmental projects for youth and the community at large.
These facilities are used for major cultural centres in visual, cinematic, written word, spoken word and performing arts. It promotes and initiates revenue generating methods in skills transfer to ensure economic viability for communities.
“We also foster social cohesion through education, dialogue and debate and leadership development programmes. We seek to contribute to poverty eradication through the development of cultural industries,” said Waters.
Among other facilities available is a Museum, an Archive and Library Resource Centre, a Commemorative Garden honouring human rights activist, a Community Media Centre, and a Memorabilia Shop. To date, the Centre has directly interacted with 267 567 beneficiaries; an annual average of 66 891 people.
“The growing interest in the work of the Foundation and Centre and the rising participation in the activities and programmes offered there is indicative of the appetite South Africans have for initiatives such as this,” concluded Waters.
Did you know, ‘Mrs Balls Chutney’ started in King?
The world-famous chutney, Mrs Balls chutney originated in the Fort Jackson/King Williams Town area.
The Adkins family settled in King Williams Town in 1852 when a ship they had been on suffered a wreckage. They were raising 11 children, and one of them, Amelia was an excellent cook. She was particularly fond of a family recipe of making chutney that her mother, Sarah sold at supermarkets.
In 1886, she married Herbert Ball in Newlands, East London and continued with the family’s chutney making tradition. This sauce like flavour became popular at church bazaars during the time of the First World War in 1914.
Amelia and her husband moved to Cape Town, they started a chutney making business and later expanded into packaging and sold the chutney in bigger bulks and to a greater number of people, officially calling it Mrs Balls.
Amelia passed away in 1962 in Fish Hoek, Cape Town. By that time, the recipe was known by her son and grandson who continued the family business. They opened a factory and the name “Mrs Ball’s Chutney” became official. They sold the business in the late 1960 and the brand was later taken over by Unifoods.
Today the chutney is loved and enjoyed all over the world and is also available in more than one flavour.
My King Williams Town: Hometown glory
I always describe myself as a small-town girl, intombi yaseQonce (just a girl from King William’s Town). I emphasise both names, and add that it’s a small town with a big city attitude. I’m always ready to remind people that iQonce yidolophu. (King is a City / Town).
I have fond memories of growing up in this town. The enchanting King library that fostered my love for books and planted the first seeds for my love affair with words.
The local pool, popularly and affectionately known, as the swimming bath. Packed to the brim with the squalling laughter of children on hot summer days. I think I almost drowned there once, and so my disregard for any kind of formal swimming was fostered.
The square with the statue opposite the Post Office, that had cameramen ready to make a quick buck from anyone ready to take a pose in front of their lenses. Even today when I pass by, I always remember how green that lawn always was, with flowers in bloom.
It’s a small town in the way small towns are, we know where to get the best slap chips, or where to go for the best cream buns, iAmigo zaseDhayssons’, umleqwa waseThandala, or the best fried fish eShoprite, ice cream yakwaGatti, the favourite local doctor, dentist and optometrist.
It’s also a small town in how everyone knows everyone, the local gossip and even that sense of familiarity with nameless faces whom know and greet and are part of the fabric that is home.
It’s a small town in the architectural beauty of our old church buildings, they are magnificent.
Like small towns, we also have our own local hero. Steve Bantu Biko, one of the greatest men in South African history, and he lies buried in here. In recent years it’s been sad to see the town grow in both good and bad ways.
The town has grown, rightfully so in its position as a junction focal point for surrounding villages, townships and other smaller towns. It’s busy. We have also not missed out in the widespread commercial development taking place around the country, boasting varying shopping centres, popular franchises finding it worthwhile to open shop here and the local government’s administrative centre in Bisho has resulted in a booming hospitality industry.
The bad is in the other reality that gnaws at any sense of nostalgia. The realities of neglected service delivery reflected by the deteriorating state of basic amenities and the frequency in protests and municipal strikes. The state of schools and the local hospital, low responsiveness of the local police and municipality, and a growing sense of despair. The potholes, uncollected litter and burst pipes have a become a norm. If it’s broken, it’s most likely to stay broken.
Low employment opportunities, a drug and alcohol problem especially among young people, teenage pregnancy, violence in local schools, the constant simmering fear of crime and a generally non-responsive system with an indifferent public service. My children will most likely never experience the King I grew to love as a child.
We can only hope, as we continue to hope that the tide will turn for the better, not only in our town but in our country.
Despite all this, my love affair with this small town remains steadfast, even if I’m a now a migrant worker (igoduka). The challenges our town faces haven’t changed my sense of belonging here, kuledolophu, and it continues to be the centre with which I define and even describe who I am, uSiki waseQonce. For me, there really is no place like home.
Sikelelwa Geya Mdingi is a Johannesburg based Communications Manager for Global Health Strategies, formerly an anchor for eNCA news. She was among the 2018, 200 Mail & Guardian Young South African to watch.