Municipality: Amathole District Municipality


The Amathole District Municipality, on the eastern seaboard of South Africa, was established after the first transformed local government elections in December 2000. The district stretches from the Indian Ocean coastline in the south to the Amathole Mountains in the north, and from Mbolompo Point (just south of the Hole-in-the-Wall along the Transkei Wild Coast) in the east to the Great Fish River in the west. 

It is a land of rivers and fertile floodplains, undulating grasslands, valley bush, pristine estuaries, beaches, forests and waterfalls. The bio-diversity of the district is often remarked upon, together with possible implications for future socio-economic developments and competitive advantages.

The district lies at the heart of the Eastern Cape Province and is presently home to about 1.7 million people. The economy of the district is dominated by Buffalo City, which comprises the coastal city of East London, King William’s Town, Mdantsane and the provincial administrative capital of Bhisho.

The district has eight local municipalities, each containing at least one urban service centre.  These are:

  • Amahlathi Municipality (Cathcart, Stutterheim and Kei Road) 
  • Buffalo City Municipality (East London, King William’s Town, Mdantsane and Bhisho) 
  • Great Kei (Komga, Kei Mouth, Hagga-Hagga, Morgan’s Bay and Chintsa) 
  • Mbhashe (Dutywa, Willowvale, Elliotdale) 
  • Mnquma (Butterworth, Nqamakwe, Centane) 
  • Ngqushwa (Peddie, Hamburg) 
  • Nkonkobe (Seymour, Fort Beaufort, Alice, Middledrift) 
  • Nxuba (Bedford, Adelaide) 

Buffalo City accounts for 42% of the district’s population, 83% of the district’s economic output, and 72% of the district’s formal employment. The city is clearly important to the growth and development fortunes of the district and critical to realising an integrated district growth and development agenda. 

Sectors that provide formal employment in the district are public services (75,000 jobs); manufacturing (27,000 jobs); trade (25,000 jobs); and agriculture (17,000 jobs).

Nevertheless, unemployment and poverty levels are high, particularly in those local municipalities which were formerly in Ciskei and Transkei. 

The Amathole District’s existing manufacturing sector includes the automotive, textile, pharmaceutical, electronics and food-processing industries. The automotive industry has strong linkages into activities such as component parts, industrial textiles and leather tanning. Renowned companies operating in the district include DaimlerChrysler SA, Johnson & Johnson, Da Gama Textiles, China Garments, Nestlé, First National Battery, Summerpride Foods, Castellano-Beltrame, Defy Refrigeration, Dimbaza Foundries, Kromberg & Schubert, Aspen Pharmacare, Yarntex and Coca-Cola Bottling to name a few.

Two of the Eastern Cape’s Spatial Development Initiatives (SDIs) for concentrated economic development, the Fish River and Wild Coast SDIs, fall partly within the Amathole region. The East London Industrial Development Zone, endorsed by the Department of Trade and Industry, is aimed at export-oriented manufacturing and processing and is ideally located close to the airport and harbour, the only river port in South Africa.

In 2005, the district established the economic development agency Aspire, which is a proprietary limited company and wholly owned by the Amathole District Municipality. Aspire’s vision is to be a pioneer in the stimulation of spatial economic development.

Critical infrastructure

The district has a good road infrastructure and has excellent airport facilities at both East London and Bulembu Airport near Bhisho.



Tourism is the most important sector in the Amathole economy; with the Wild Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the Amathole Mountain Escape and the Friendly N6 popular tourist destinations.  

Three tourist routes overlap the Amathole District, including the Sunshine Coast (Port Elizabeth to East London), the Wild Coast (East London to Port Edward), the Friendly N6 (East London to Bloemfontein) and a fourth route, the Amathole Mountain Escape, falls wholly within the district in the northern reaches.

The district is renowned for its historical heritage as this was the area where nine colonial/frontier wars took place over a century between 1779 and 1878.  The area is also renowned for its struggle heroes during the repressive Apartheid regime.  It is a land that has forged many leaders in politics (such as Former President Nelson Mandela and current President Thabo Mbeki and Black Consciousness Leader Steve Biko), academia, sport, and captains of industry.  It is a place that has inspired poets, artists, sculptors, songwriters, photographers, authors and healers.  It is a place where African democracy took flame, sparking a nation and a continent to fight for justice, freedom, and equality. 

Four new heritage routes have been established, named after Xhosa kings and heroes. These are Makana, Sandile, Maqoma and Phalo Routes.  Over 350 heritage sites have been identified within the district which is dotted with remnants of forts, mission stations, places of historical significance and burial sites of Xhosa kings and struggle heroes.


Historically, there has been a lack of investment in infrastructure and Amathole is generally under-developed. There is only a secondary route, the R27, between East London and Port Elizabeth. The N6 route to Gauteng has only been upgraded in sections. There is thus limited access to and from the national economy. This places local businesses at a disadvantage and encourages the movement of skilled workers to more economically robust regions.

The Amathole District is also challenged to improve water and sanitation services. Even in the urban areas, the bulk water capacity needs upgrading. Increasing urbanisation and coastal development highlight the lack of access to raw water and unreliable ground water.