About the Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is located (link to section) on the eastern most part of South Africa.  An area of almost 170,000 square kilometres, the province boasts a rich history (link to section), moderate climate (link to section), a wealth of natural resources (link to section) and superior lifestyle (link to section).

Its seat of government is Bhisho (link to section), about 70 km from East London.

Its 800km coastline and mesmerising inland has significant tourism appeal.

Its economy is largely dependent on the automotive sector but has potential in areas such as chemical and petrochemicals, agriculture and agroprocessing, capital goods, manufacturing, automotive and green industries. (link to economic section).

Major cities

  • East London: Economic hub of Buffalo City Metropolitan area
  • Port Elizabeth: Largest economic centre; part of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan area
    Bhisho: Seat of government


  • isiXhosa 79%, Afrikaans 11%, English 6%

Language of commerce

  • English


  • 6.6 million, 13% of South African population
  • 3rd most populous province


  • 169,580 square kilometres (13.9%)
  • 2nd largest province by land mass

Gross domestic product                 

  • 8.1% of total South African GDP
  • 4th largest contributor to GDP

Major industries

  • Automotive, tourism, agriculture, agro-processing

Number of foreign tourists visiting the Eastern Cape

  •   354,957 (2010)

Domestic tourists to the Eastern Cape                                 

  • 4 million (2010)

Number of Eastern Cape tourism associations                     

  • Over 18

Number of government-owned nature reserves or parks

  • 17


The province, rich in natural resources and culture, is located on the southernmost coast of South Africa.  It is about the size of Uruguay.

The province lies equidistant from the major market centres of South Africa.

It is linked to those centres by a modern network of air, roads and railways.

It lies between two of South Africa’s major economic hubs, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, which offers easy linkages to these nodes.

It is also the only province to have three harbours – the Port of East London, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura.

The Port of Ngqura, the country’s only transhipment hub, allows for easy access to global markets for local investors.

Rich history

The Eastern Cape was one of the first areas settled by the Portuguese in 1488 and by the British in 1820.

It was the site of many wars between the local Khoisan and Xhosa’s as well as the British, Dutch and Germans.

This rich cultural heritage has been preserved in some of the region’s smaller towns including Bathurst, Grahamstown and Cradock.

Nelson Mandela’s birthplace lies just south of Mthatha in a cluster of villages known as Qunu.

This is where the former president spent his early childhood.

The Eastern Cape is home to many other struggle heroes including Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki, Steve Biko, Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo.

Seat of government

The Eastern Cape’s capital (link to www.ecprov.gov.za) is Bhisho which lies 50km west of East London. Rural development, land and agrarian reform, and food security are priorities of the provincial government, and the growth of the agriculture and agro-processing sector is strongly rooted in the Eastern Cape Provincial Growth and Development Programme (PGDP) [link to PGDP].

The PGDP earmarks primary production of food and food products, and the addition of value to primary production by processing, manufacturing and creative marketing of food products.


The Eastern Cape is the only one of South Africa’s nine provinces to have all seven of its biomes or ecological zones, within its boundaries.

This gives it a tremendous diversity of climates, allowing for a vast range of activities.

The Eastern Cape also has more “sunshine” days than any other South African province – more than 300 out of 365 days are sunny.

Natural resources

The Eastern Cape is abundantly rich in natural resources, from grazing land to forests, marine life to rich farming soils, water to wilderness.

The province’s climate allows for the production of a diverse range of crops. Such as pineapples, tea, tomatoes and chicory. Pondoland, in the east of the province, holds some of the richest soils in the country.

Superior lifestyle

To choose to live in the Eastern Cape is to choose a superior lifestyle with all modern conveniences at hand.

Here, more than 300 days in a year are sunny, a magnificent coastline stretches along 800km of the warm Indian Ocean, numerous unspoiled estuaries run into the sea, and in winter, snow caps the mountains inland.

Tourism appeal

The Eastern Cape is a culmination of all the great holiday destinations in southern Africa. Stretching from Cape St Francis in the west to the Wild Coast in the east, the area boasts some of the best beaches in South Africa. Visitors find seven of South Africa’s ecological zones, as well as an unparalleled range of climates, landscapes and cultures.

With miles of pristine beaches, secluded lagoons, rocky coves and cliffs, the Eastern Cape’s most important natural feature is its spectacular coastline and main tourist attraction.

The Eastern Cape is also well-known for its sandy beaches which stretch for miles along the coast. Today, the province boasts four of the 36 Blue Flag beaches in South Africa– Dolphin Beach in Jeffrey’s Bay, Kelly’s Beach in Port Alfred, Kariega in Kenton-on-Sea and the Humewood Beach in Port Elizabeth. The Blue Flag is a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3,850 beaches and marinas in 46 countries across the globe.

Marine life is abundant along the Eastern Cape coast, and visitors often spot pods of dolphins playing just off the shoreline. Whales also pass through the area on their way up to the Western Cape coast to breed from September to December.

The malaria-free Eastern Cape is one of the few places in the world where visitors can get close to the Big 7 in real life. The Great White shark and seasonal Southern Right whale complete the Big 7 which also includes buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino. There are hundreds of game farms throughout the Eastern Cape which offer luxurious five star accommodation and Big 5 safaris.

The Eastern Cape’s natural diversity ranges from the evergreen Tsitsikamma Forest, with its renowned Otter Trail, to the rugged Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, the southern slopes of the Drakensberg and the imposing Great Karoo. The Eastern Cape offers visitors every type of outdoor experience.

The waves of the warm Indian Ocean beckon surfers, kite-boarders and sailors. The vast open space and fresh air invite cyclists and runners to explore, while world renowned hiking trails are a hiker’s dream. Bridges and craggy mountain-tops wait in anticipation for the thrill-seeking bungee-jumpers.

More details are available from the agency responsible for the province’s tourism project and nature reserves/parks (link to www.visittheeasterncape.co.za).


The Eastern Cape economy is characterised by the concentration of economic activity in urban nodes and the prominence of secondary and tertiary sectors.

The Eastern Cape’s gross domestic product contributions of 2.7% in 2011 gave it a ranking of 4th place out of the nine provinces.

Port Elizabeth, the largest city in the province, plays a vital role in the economic activity. It boasts a fresh-water port, as well as the Coega industrial development zone (IDZ). Other major GRP contributors are East London, host of the second IDZ in the Eastern Cape, Bhisho and Uitenhage, an important motor vehicle manufacturing hub.

The manufacturing sector in the Eastern Cape is largely driven by the automotive subsector. The automotive subsector accounts for 30% of manufacturing employment and 32% of manufacturing gross value added (GVA) in the province.

Four large original equipment manufacturers, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Ford and General Motors, are based in the Eastern Cape. The province produces half of South Africa’s passenger vehicles and generates 51% of the country’s motor exports.

The province is both the fourth largest exporter and importer of products, driven mostly by the automotive sector.

In 2011, contributions to GDPR by government grew by 3.8% year-on-year (YoY), finance by 1.8% and 3.0% YoY and the manufacturing sector by 1.7% YoY.

For most the most recent quarterly statistics on the economy, visit the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council (link to website).

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