Eastern Cape province, South Africa

The Eastern Cape, lying on the southeastern South African coast, is a region of great natural beauty, particularly the rugged cliffs, rough seas and dense green bush of the stretch known as the Wild Coast.

A woman tends a maize field in Centane, a settlement in the Amatole district of the Eastern Cape
A woman tends a maize field in Centane, a settlement in the Amatole district of the Eastern Cape. (Image: Brand South Africa)

Compiled by Mary Alexander

The Eastern Cape’s diverse climates and landscapes range from the dry and desolate Great Karoo to the lush forests of the Wild Coast and the Keiskamma Valley, the fertile Langkloof, renowned for its rich apple harvests, and the mountainous southern Drakensberg region around the town of Elliot.

The province’s main feature is its spectacular coastline, lapped by the temperate Indian Ocean. With long stretches of unspoilt sandy beaches, rocky coves, secluded lagoons and towering cliffs, the coast is the province’s main tourist attraction.

Eastern Cape map

Lying in Algoa Bay is Port Elizabeth, the largest city and an important harbour. Other major towns include:

  • Bhisho, the capital
  • East London, which has produced some of South Africa’s greatest sporting heroes – cricketers Makhaya Ntini and Mark Boucher, Formula 1 champion Jody Sheckter, featherweight boxing world champion Vuyani Bunu, and many more.
  • Uitenhage, which has important motor vehicle manufacturing industries
  • King William’s Town, birthplace of struggle hero Steve Biko
  • Grahamstown, home of Rhodes University and host of South Africa’s internationally acclaimed National Arts Festival
  • Mthatha, former capital of the Transkei “homeland” and home to the Nelson Mandela Museum
  • Graaff-Reinet, South Africa’s fourth-oldest colonial settlement and birthplace of Robert Sobukwe, founder of the Pan Africanist Congress
  • Port St Johns, the largest town on the Wild Coast

Eastern Cape: quick facts

  • Capital: Bhisho
  • Major city: Port Elizabeth in Nelson Mandela Bay
  • Languages: 78.8% isiXhosa, 10.6% Afrikaans, 5.6% English
  • Population: 6 562 053 (Census 2011)
  • Share of total South African population: 12.7%
  • Area: 168 966 square kilometres
  • Share of total SA area: 13.9%


Eastern Cape: the land and its people

At 168 966 square kilometres, the Eastern Cape is roughly the size of Uruguay. It’s the country’s second-largest province after the Northern Cape, taking up 13.9% of South Africa’s land area and with a population of around 6.5-million people.

The majority of the people speak isiXhosa, followed by Afrikaans and English.

In the Eastern Cape, various floral habitats meet. The long curve of coastline, large area and the considerable east-west and north-south distances it covers give the province extremely varied vegetation.

Along the coast, the northern tropical forests intermingle with the more temperate woods of the south, creating an interesting forest habitat of various species endemic to this region. Ancient forests are found around Keiskammahoek, Dwesa, Port St Johns and Bathurst, dune forests near Alexandria, and mangroves along the Wild Coast.

Rolling grasslands dominate the eastern interior of the province, while the western central plateau is savanna bushveld. The northern inland is home to the aromatic, succulent-rich Karoo habitat.


The metropolitan economies of Port Elizabeth and East London are based primarily on manufacturing, the most important being automotive manufacturing. The province is the hub of South Africa’s motor industry.

Volkswagen South Africa and the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa have manufacturing plants in the Eastern Cape, while General Motors South Africa and Daimler, through its subsidiary Mercedes Benz South Africa, have assembly plants in the province.

With two harbours and four airports offering direct flights to the main centres, and an excellent road and rail infrastructure, the province has been earmarked as a key area for growth and economic development.

There are two industrial development zones: the West Bank in East London and Coega, near Port Elizabeth – a massive infrastructure development, it includes the multimillion-rand deepwater Port of Ngqura.

Other important sectors include renewables and green industries, forestry and timber processessing, pharmaceuticals, plastics and chemicals, capital goods and tourism.

Agriculture, fishing and forestry

There is much fertile land in the Eastern Cape, and agriculture is important. The fertile Langkloof Valley in the southwest has enormous deciduous fruit orchards, while sheep farming predominates in the Karoo.

The Alexandria-Grahamstown area produces pineapples, chicory and dairy products, while coffee and tea are cultivated at Magwa. People in the former Transkei region are dependent on cattle, maize and sorghum-farming. An olive nursery has been developed in collaboration with the University of Fort Hare to form a nucleus of olive production in the Eastern Cape.

There is excellent potential for forestry – the coastal areas receive good summer rainfall and have a moderate climate, becoming more subtropical to the north-west. The Tsitsikamma National Park on the southern border is home to dense indigenous forest.

The basis of the province’s fishing industry is squid, some recreational and commercial fishing for line fish, the collection of marine resources, and access to line-catches of hake.

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