Grahamstown is situated in the heart of a region that has been well described as ‘the crucible of South African history’. Known as the ‘border’ region because it was where the eastern border of the Cape Colony was drawn, it was shaped by the struggle between the indigenous black people of the area and the white settlers.
The city began its life as a military outpost, named after Colonel John Graham and developed rapidly into a major center thanks to the influx of the British settlers who had been brought to the region in 1820 to establish farms that would also serve as a human buffer zone along the eastern border of the colony. The impact of these settlers, the homes they built and the signs of their struggle to establish themselves remain part of Grahamstown’s historical and architectural heritage.
But the city has also been shaped by the struggle of the displaced black people of the region, whose political aspirations found expression in the formation of the African National Congress, many of whose leaders came from the region and which to this day remains its heartland.
Today it is a modern, thriving city, known throughout the country for its educational institutions (Rhodes University, many private and public schools, museums, etc.) and cultural and scientific festivals (e.g., the world renowned National Arts Festival and the popular Science Festival take place there every year). It is becoming increasingly attractive to tourists both because of its historical interest and because of the amenities (e.g., malaria-free game reserves, stunning beaches) that can be found within a short range of it. The struggles of the past are replaced by a new struggle in which all sides strive to create a truly non-racial, integrated city, which serves now as the seat of the Makana municipality. In this fact alone there is immense symbolism – for while Grahamstown is named after the British colonel who sought to push the black people beyond the borders of the colony, Makana is the name of the Xhosa chief who fought back against the white threat.
As cities go, Grahamstown must be one of the smallest. It has the advantage therefore of being both a city and yet one that nevertheless remains small enough for people to enjoy the feeling of community and community support normally found only in small towns. It is not surprising that one of the comments most frequently heard about Grahamstown is that ‘it is a wonderful place in which to raise a family’.
For more information on Grahamstown, visit the City’s website: http://www.grahamstown.co.za/