Makhanda, Eastern Cape

Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown; Afrikaans: Grahamstad, Xhosa: iRhini) is a town[lower-alpha 1] of about 70,000 people in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is situated about 110 kilometres (70 mi) northeast of Port Elizabeth and 130 kilometres (80 mi) southwest of East London. Makhanda is the largest town in the Makana Local Municipality, and the seat of the municipal council. It also hosts Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court, The South African Library for the Blind (SALB) and a diocese of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and 6 South African Infantry Battalion.



Makhanda seen from Fort Selwyn

Coordinates: 33°18′36″S 26°31′36″E
CountrySouth Africa
ProvinceEastern Cape
DistrictSarah Baartman
  Total65.1 km2 (25.1 sq mi)
580 m (1,900 ft)
  Density1,000/km2 (2,700/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)
  Black African78.9%
First languages (2011)
Time zoneUTC+2 (SAST)
Postal code (street)
PO box
Area code046

The town's name change from Grahamstown to Makhanda was officially gazetted on 29 June 2018.[4][5] The town was officially renamed to Makhanda in memory of Xhosa warrior and prophet Makhanda ka Nxele.[6]


Grahamstown was founded in 1812 as a military outpost by Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham as part of the effort to secure the eastern frontier of British influence in the Cape Colony against the Xhosa, who had been forcibly pushed out to the lands that lay just to the east on the Fish River. The brutal expulsion of some 20,000 Xhosa people, including their leader Ndlambe ka Rharhabe, from the Zuurveld and the adoption of a "scorched earth" tactic by Graham and his forces to destroy Xhosa crops to prevent their return was part of the 4th "Frontier" War.[8]

Egazini, Battle of Grahamstown

On 22 April 1819, a large number of Xhosa warriors, under the leadership of Nxele (or Makana), launched an attack against the British colonial forces. The Xhosas had warned Colonel Willshire, the commanding officer, of their planned attack on Grahamstown.[9] It was one of countless attacks launched on the nascent colony by the Xhosas. During the course of the battle, the British were running low on ammunition. A woman, by the name of Elizabeth Salt, risked her life by walking into the battle carrying weapons and ammunition to the British troops. She disguised the weapons and ammunition as an infant whom she was cradling. The Xhosa warriors were reluctant to attack a woman and child and so allowed her to pass and resupply the troops . The Xhosas, with a force of 10,000 troops under the overall command of Ndlambe's warrior son Mdushane, were unable to overpower the colonial garrison of some 300 men. Nxele surrendered, was taken captive and imprisoned on Robben Island. On Christmas Day, 1819 he tried to escape, and drowned.


Grahamstown grew during the 1820s as many 1820 Settlers and their families left farming to establish themselves in more secure trades. In 1833, Grahamstown was described as having "two or three English merchants of considerable wealth, but scarcely any society in the ordinary sense of the word. The Public Library is a wretched affair".[10] As of 1833, it was estimated that the population of Grahamstown was approximately 6,000.[11] In a few decades it became the Cape Colony's largest town after Cape Town. It became a bishopric in 1852. It was traditionally the capital and cultural centre of the Albany area, a former traditionally English-speaking district with a distinctive local culture.

In 1872, the Cape Government Railways began construction of the railway line linking Grahamstown to Port Alfred on the coast, and to the developing national railway network inland. That was completed and opened on 3 September 1879.[12]

Grahamstown was the location of the testing of the first diamond find by Henry Carter Galpin.

In 1904, Rhodes University College was established in Grahamstown through a grant from the Rhodes Trust.[13] In 1951 it became a fully-fledged University, Rhodes University.

Name change

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced the name change from Grahamstown in the Government Gazette no. 641 of 29 June 2018. The purpose of gazetting was to publicise the Minister's decision for objections or comments by 28 July 2018.[14]

Prompted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation that geographic features, including geographical names, be renamed as a "symbolic reparation" to address an unjust past, it is proposed that the town be renamed after Makhanda, the prophet, philosopher and military man, who led a failed attack against the British garrison in Grahamstown in 1819. On 2 October 2018, Grahamstown was officially renamed to Makhanda in memory of Makhanda ka Nxele.[15]

Religion—'The City of Saints'

St Michael and St George Cathedral
A view of St Michael and St George Cathedral in Church street
The interior of St Michael and St George Cathedral

St. Michael and St. George Cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown. Makhanda also has Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Ethiopian Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Pinkster Protestante, Dutch Reformed (Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk), Charismatic, Apostolic and Pentecostal churches. There are also meeting places for Hindus, Scientologists, Quakers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Muslims.

For historic reasons, particularly the vibrancy of evangelism during Grahamstown's heyday, the City is home to more than forty religious buildings, and the nickname the "City of Saints" has become attached to the town. However, there is another story which may be the source of this nickname.

It is said that in about 1846 there were Royal Engineers stationed in Grahamstown who were in need of building tools. They sent a message to Cape Town requesting a vice to be forwarded to them from the Ordnance Stores. A reply came back, 'Buy vice locally'. The response was, "No vice in Grahamstown".[16]


According to the 2011 census the population of Grahamstown was 67,264, of whom 78.9% described themselves as "Black African", 11.3% as "Coloured" and 8.4% as "White".[2] Since 1994, there has been a considerable influx of Black people from the former Ciskei Xhosa homeland, which lies just to the east. The first language of 72.2% of the population is Xhosa, while 13.7% speak Afrikaans and 10.8% speak English[2]

Education, arts and culture

Makhanda is home to many schools, Rhodes University, and several institutes, most importantly the South African National Library for the Blind, the National English Literary Museum, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (formerly the JLB Smith Institute), the International Library of African Music (ILAM), the Albany Museum (which includes a local history museum, a natural history museum and the observatory museum (see below), and the Institute for the Study of English in Africa.

The legacy of disparate education during Apartheid still echoes in the provision of secondary education in this former frontier town, where significant discrepancies in matric pass rates and general quality of education exist. Addressing this problem is one of the town's greatest challenges.

In March 1984 the City of Grahamstown adopted a flag, one of six designs prepared by heraldic expert Prof. Hugh Smith, of Rhodes University.[17]

The Observatory Museum

In 1859, Henry Carter Galpin bought a simple double-storey establishment in Bathurst Street for £300. During the next 23 years he made extensive changes. The front was elegantly decorated, and a basement and three floors added to the back. Rooftop developments included an observatory, from which the building took its name, and what was for many years the only Camera Obscura in the Southern Hemisphere.

Born in 1820 in Dorset, England, Galpin trained as an architect, surveyor and civil engineer, as well as a chronometer, clock and watchmaker. These skills, together with his keen interest in optics and astronomy, are reflected throughout The Observatory- the most unusual Victorian home and business premises in South Africa.

Galpin's thriving watchmaker and jeweller's shop was run by three of his seven sons after his death in 1886, including Ernest Edward Galpin. They sold to Messrs Leader and Krummeck in 1939. Several businesses occupied the ground floor while the basement and upper floors were divided into flats and lodgings.

By the end of the 1970s the structure was dilapidated and unsound. The historic link with the identification of the Eureka diamond led to the purchase and restoration of the Observatory by De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited.

The building has been proclaimed a National Monument and presented to the Albany Museum to form part of its History Division. Exhibits were arranged, and the Observatory Museum was opened by Mr. Harry F. Oppenheimer, the then Chairman of De Beers, on 2 February 1983.

Tower clocks in the town

The following is a list of tower clocks in Makhanda, with their location and if they are in working order.


Two large festivals take place annually in Makhanda: the National Arts Festival in June/July and SciFest Africa in the first term of the year and attracts some 50,000 people. The National Arts Festival is the largest Arts festival in Africa and sees some of the leading talent on the South African and international art scene arriving in Makhanda for a celebration of culture and artistic expression. South Africa's National Science Festival, was established in 1996 to promote the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation. Makhanda is also host to the Puku Story Festival since 2013 presented by the Puku Children's Literature Foundation. The festival was created in partnership with the National Arts Festival and the African Studies Department at Rhodes University with the aim to facilitate access to literature and educational/recreational materials in Xhosa.[18]


School Year Founded Denomination Language Grades Gender Private/Public
St Andrew's College 1855 Anglican English 8–12 Single sex male Private
Graeme College (known variously before 1939 as Victoria Boys' High School and the Grahamstown Public School) 1873 Non-denominational English 0–12 Single sex male Public
Diocesan School for Girls (D.S.G.) 1874 Anglican English 4–12 Single sex female Private
St Aidan's College 1876 (closed 1973) Jesuit English ?–12 Single sex male Private
St. Andrew's Preparatory School 1885 Anglican English 0–7 Single sex male (Co-ed. until Gr.4) Private
Good Shepherd School 1884 Anglican English 1–7 co-educational Private/public partnership
Kingswood College 1894 Methodist English 0–12 Co-educational Private
Victoria Girls' High School 1897 Non-denominational English 8–12 Single sex female Public
Victoria Girls' Primary 1945 Non-denominational English 0–7 Single sex female Public
Oatlands Preparatory 1949 Non-denominational English 0–7 Co-educational Public
P.J. Olivier 1956 Non-denominational Afrikaans 0–12 Co-educational Public


Makhanda is home to the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa. Grocott's Mail was founded in 1870 by the Grocott family, and bought out a newspaper called the Grahamstown Journal, which was founded in 1831.[19] Robert Godlonton, a previous owner of the Journal had used it and his other papers to oppose Andries Stockenström's treaty system and advocated seizing more land from the Xhosa.[20] It is now a local newspaper operated by the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies, and still retains its name.

As a major centre for journalism training, Rhodes University also hosts two student newspapers, Activate, established in 1947, and The Oppidan Press, a student initiative launched in 2007 that caters mainly to the student population living off-campus.


With the establishment of the Union of South Africa the Grahamstown High Court became a Local Division of the newly formed Supreme Court of South Africa (under Cape Town). On 28 June 1957, the Eastern Districts Court, under the name Eastern Cape Division, became a provincial division.[21] In certain other areas of provincial government Grahamstown similarly served as a centre for the Eastern Cape.

In 1994 Grahamstown became part of the newly established Eastern Cape Province, while Bhisho was chosen as the provincial capital.

It is the seat of the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court, as well as the Magistrate's Court for the Albany District. As a result of the presence of a High Court, several other related organs of state such as a Masters Office and a Director of Public Prosecutions are present in the town. A few other Government (mostly provincial) departments maintain branches or other offices in Makhanda.

Grahamstown was the only settlement outside Cape Town to host a sitting of the Cape Colony legislature (a move to defuse a call for the creation of a separate colony).

Municipal government

Grahamstown had its own municipality until 2000. Since then, it has formed part of the Makana Local Municipality in the Cacadu District.

From 2012 the Makana Local Municipality was unable to reliably provide water to its citizens[22] The crisis continued to grow during 2013.[23]

In 2013 South Africa's minister of water Edna Molewa was tasked with restoring the water supply of Grahamstown following protests over a nine-day water outage. Causes for the outage include financial mismanagement, with under-spending on infrastructure.[24] The task force established by Molewa had not solved the problem by 2014.[25]

Social issues

In October 2015 more than 500 people were displaced and more than 300 shops looted during a wave of xenophobic violence.[26][27][28][29]

Some people use traditional African medicine because it is believed to be effective. There are some plants which are popular with the people of Makhanda.[30]

Coat of arms

Municipality (1) — The first arms were assumed in September 1862. They quartered an incorrect version of the arms of Graham of Fintry with those of Jan van Riebeeck (in incorrect colours), with an ostrich as a crest. The supporters were a leopard and a giraffe, and the motto was Virtute et opera.

Municipality (2) — In response to a call by the Cape Provincial Administration for municipalities to have their coats of arms checked and, if necessary, re-designed, the city council had a new coat of arms designed by Ivan Mitford-Barberton and H. Ellis Tomlinson in 1950. It was granted by the College of Arms on 20 July 1950, and registered at the Bureau of Heraldry in September 1994.[31]

The new arms were : Or, on a pile Gules, three annulets placed 2 and 1 Or; on a chief Sable, three escallops Or (in layman's terms : a golden shield displaying, from top to bottom, three golden scallop shells on a black horizontal stripe, and three golden rings on a red triangle). The crest was changed to a plume of ostrich feathers issuing from a golden mural crown, and the supporters were differenced by placing an escallop on each shoulder.

Social movements

In 2017, Makana Revive! an independent civil society organisation was formed. During the first quarter of 2018, Makana Revive made national news when it spearheaded an initiative to repair failing infrastructure and improve the security and hygiene in the CBD. Donations were received from both local and international citizens and alumni.[32]

The South African Unemployed Peoples' Movement has a strong presence in Makhanda.[33][34][35][29]

Notable people

See also

Major organisations

Notes and references

  1. Some consider Grahamstown to be a city as it has a diocesan cathedral, a high court and a university, and in years past, it was officially the City of Grahamstown[3]
  1. "Chronological order of town establishment in South Africa based on Floyd (1960:20-26)" (PDF). pp. xlv–lii.
  2. Sum of the Main Places Rhini and Grahamstown from Census 2011.
  3. "DISA - Letter from the Town Clerk of the City of Grahamstown to the Secretary of the National Council of African Women". 26 September 1952. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  4. Chabalala, Jeanette (29 June 2018). "Grahamstown to be renamed Makhanda after Xhosa warrior". News24. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  5. Kubheka, Thando. "Grahamstown to be renamed after late Xhosa warrior & philosopher Makhanda". EWN Eyewitness News. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  6. "Here's why Grahamstown has been renamed Makhanda". IOL. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  7. "Wesleyan Mission Premises, Graham's Town, South Africa". Wesleyan Juvenile Offering. III: 86. August 1846. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  8. Maclennan, Ben (1986). A Proper Degree of Terror: John Graham and the Cape's Eastern Frontier. Ravan Press. pp. 103–125. ISBN 978-0-86975-235-7.
  9. Couzens, Tim (2004). Battles of South Africa. New Africa Books. pp. 71–. ISBN 978-0-86486-621-9.
  10. Littell, Eliakim; Walsh, Robert; Smith, John Jay (1834). "Wild Sports in the Cape of Good Hope". The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art. 25. Philadelphia: E. Littell & T. Holden.
  11. Roberts, Edmund (1837). Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 388.
  12. Burman, Jose (1984). Early Railways at the Cape. Cape Town: : Human & Rousseau. p. 71. ISBN 0-7981-1760-5.
  13. Currey, Ronald Fairbridge (1970). Rhodes University 1904–1970: a chronicle. Grahamstown. p. 8.
  14. "Grahamstown to be renamed Makhanda after Xhosa warrior". News24. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  15. "Here's why Grahamstown has been renamed Makhanda". IOL. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  16. Morton, H.V., 1948. In Search of South Africa. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. p. 161.
  17. Bakker, Jarig (7 March 2001). "Grahamstown (South Africa)". Flags of the World. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  18. Van Schalkwyk, Gilda (30 May 2006). "Arts, crafts and laughter". Daily News. Archived from the original on 31 August 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  19. "About us".
  20. "A Quest For A Treaty Stockenstrom, Godlonton And Bowker". New History of South Africa. 2010. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  21. Kahn, Ellison (1967), "The Rules of Precedent Applied in South African Courts", South African Law Journal, 84: 308
  22. Dyongman, Loyiso; Lang, Steven (20 April 2012). "Water crisis continues in Grahamstown". Grocott's Mail. Archived from the original on 8 August 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  23. "Rhodes University faces closure due to water shortage". SABC. 15 August 2013. Archived from the original on 9 August 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  24. Troye Lund (10 October 2013). "Protests unlikely to dent ANC support at polls". Financial Mail. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  25. "Grahamstown not clear of water worries yet". The Oppidan Press. 24 January 2014. Archived from the original on 9 August 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  26. Van Rensburg, K. J.; Erskog, M.; Mthonti, F. (29 October 2015). "Xenophobia in Grahamstown: 'We are not leaving!'". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  27. O'Halloran, Paddy (27 October 2015). "Where poverty meets xenophobia: Grahamstown, a city in crisis". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  28. Pillay, Deneesha (10 July 2015). "Play unmasks Grahamstown water crisis". HeraldLIVE. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  29. OHalloran, P. (2016). "Contested Space and Citizenship in Grahamstown, South Africa". Journal of Asian and African Studies. doi:10.1177/0021909616664920. ISSN 0021-9096.
  30. Dold, A. P.; Cocks, M. L. (September 2000). "The medicinal use of some weeds, problem and alien plants in the Grahamstown and Peddie districts of the Eastern Cape, South Africa" (PDF). South African Journal of Science. 96: 467–473.
  31. "Grahamstown - Heraldry of the World". Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  32. MacLennan, Sue (13 February 2018). "Shattercat boosts pothole repair fund". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  33. The Rebellion of the Poor Comes to Grahamstown
  34. Tabensky, Pedro Alexis (21 February 2011). "The Flames of Phaphamani". Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  35. Thabo Jijana (10 February 2011). "Bullets fly as township erupts". Grocott's Mail. Archived from the original on 29 January 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
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