Pietermaritzburg may just be a dot in the South African wilderness but this capital city of the KwaZulu-Natal province played a significant role in the formation of Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of Satyagraha or non-violence. For one, this is where the famous philosopher spent a cold winter night when he was thrown off the train, an experience which cemented his decision to fight racial discrimination in South Africa.
This is the same reason why Gandhi’s bronze statue now stands at the city centre’s Church Street. Thanks to the end of discrimination in the city, it now has one of the country’s largest Indian South African populations.
The city has its share of famous residents who have made the area more popular worldwide including motorcycle champions Kork Ballington and Jon Ekerold, soccer player Brett Evans, Bryce Moon, and novelist Tom Sharpe.
Anyone who finds the city’s name too long and hard to pronounce can just call it Maritzburg or PMB. The city’s population has grown so fast in a span of ten years, from 228,549 in 1991 to more than one million in 2011. This is evident of the increasing rate of migration in the area, which measures 659 square kilometers.
People who intend to relocate to Pietermaritzburg become more interested in the city when they are told that while the Voortrekkers founded the city, it became a British Colony in 1843. This was the home base of Lieutenant-Governor Martin West. The city’s name is however credited to two Voortrekker leaders named Gert Maritz and Pieter Retief.
If there is one thing that can never be separated from the city’s history, then it would be the story of apartheid or racial discrimination against the Indian population.
The city of Pietermaritzburg is home to various educational institutions. This includes the University of Natal, which holds a place in history as one of the universities that took part in the struggle against discrimination. The University of KwaZulu-Natal also has a campus here. So there are lots of choices when it comes to educational facilities.
Economy and Tourism
Pietermaritzburg generally has a temperate and warm climate but autumn and winter can be extremely cold. Expect rainy summers and more sunshine hours throughout the year. The best time to be in the city is between the months of June and August.
Those who prefer to be close to nature but enjoy life’s modern comforts would enjoy life in Pietermaritzburg considering its proximity to both Johannesburg and Durban. The city’s richly forested countryside is a real treat to nature lovers. Living here means getting the best of both worlds. This includes a picturesque environment and a modern city life bustling with commerce and industry.
However, don’t expect nightlife in Pietermaritzburg to be as vibrant as the other areas. There are a few entertainment facilities in the city. This includes a few clubs and restaurants along Quarry Road as well as the City hall and university area.
The major products in the city are dairy, timber, and aluminum. New investments in the city have paved the way for development in the commercial and housing sectors.
The mobilization of commerce and people is made possible by land through the national road which traverses Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Witwatersand. Flying by air through the Oribi Airport, which has regular flights bound for Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport, and by train through the Shosholoza Meyl, which serves the Johannesburg and Durban routes.
The city boasts of many tourist attractions. This includes natural attractions like the National Botanical Gardens, which boasts 100 bird species. Midmar Public Nature Reserve, Albert Falls Nature Reserve, Queen Elizabeth Park, and World’s View and Howick Falls are other attractions to visit.
For those fond of arts and culture, the city is home to the Tatham Art Gallery, which boasts of 19th and 20th century paintings by the masters like Picassos and Renoir. The Natal Museum, which dates back to 1902, is another artistic place to visit.
Pietermaritzburg is the place to be for those who want to be active the whole year through. The Comrades Marathon is one of the largest and biggest ultra marathon races in the world. It runs approximately 176 kilometres between Durban and Pietermaritzburg and vice versa. It is held in the city around May or June of each year. Thousands of runners join the annual event, which started in 1921.
The 106-kilometre road cycling event called Amashova National Cycle Classic is held in the city every October since 1986. The grueling race, which also offers the 38-kilometre fun and short ride, follows the Pietermaritzburg-Durban route.
The Dusi Canoe Marathon canoe race is held annually every January. It follows the scenic route, which passes the Msunduzi River, Mgeni River, the Inanda Dam, and back. The Midmar Dam in the city is the center of attention in February because of the Midmar Mile. This is an open-water swimming competition. It attracts more than 16,000 swimmers worldwide.
Soccer and cricket is also played in the city the whole year through. Maritzburg United is considered the city’s most prominent club. Both residents and visitors to the city flock to the picturesque Pietermaritzburg Oval, which is the world-famous cricket ground. This was one of the venues for the Cricket World Cup in 2003. The city hosted the BMX Racing World Championship in 2010. Thus, making it a truly world class sports destination.
The natural resource rich and yet vibrant environment in Pietermaritzburg makes it an ideal place for those who want the best of both worlds. Living here would mean easy access to cultural gateways, natural paradise, and cultural wonders.