East London is the centre of the Buffalo City Municipality and home to one of the areas identified by the government for its Industrial Development Zone programme, which is aimed at providing platforms for business and investors to improve global competitiveness.
Buffalo City is an attractive centre for import-export business and its strategic location makes it an important investment destination. It is well placed for trade with the rest of Africa as well as with the markets of America, Europe and the Pacific Rim. It is also equidistant from South Africa's major market centres, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The attraction of East London lies in its low input costs and its excellent infrastructure, including an airport and a port. It is also well connected to the rest of the country by rail and road. It has a deep-water port, which has spare capacity to deal with future growth.
East London is in the Eastern Cape, South Africa's second largest province. Its manufacturing sector is already quite well integrated into the world economy. For example, nearly half of the 120 large-scale manufacturing enterprises in the Eastern Cape are part of international corporations. More than 50% of the large-scale enterprises are exporting more than 25% of their output.
The motor industry is evidence of how investor confidence is growing in this area. Mercedes-Benz SA, which is based in East London, is one of the largest foreign investors in South Africa. In 1998, it made a R1,4-billion investment in South Africa. It has recently bid for the contract to manufacture the new generation C-Class Mercedes Benz. According to the Border-Kei Chamber of Business, Mercedes-Benz SA won the C-Class contract, more jobs will be created and R10-billion will flow into the province from spin-offs and investments. Mercedes-Benz SAcurrently manufactures the world's right-hand C-Class Mercedes Benz vehicles.
The Eastern Cape has a large pool of skilled and trainable labour. With high rates of unemployment, people in the area are keen to work. In general, costs are lower in Buffalo City than in other industrial areas and there are a number of regional and municipal incentives available to interested investors.
Apart from everything else, Buffalo City has an excellent, temperate climate and exceptional scenic beauty. These all add up to offer residents a high quality of life.
The Eastern Cape: the provincial picture
According to Statistics South Africa, the Eastern Cape has shown growth of 13,5% between 1998 and 2001, the highest in the country. The national average was 8,6%. The national government is spending substantial amounts on the development and growth of the region's infrastructure.
Other positive signs for the province include:
- Continued export-led growth of the manufacturing sector (eg investment planned by the motor manufacturers).
- Growth associated with the IDZs at Coega and East London.
- Growth associated with currently underutilised agricultural assets in the former Transkei and Ciskei through the R350-million Mass Food Production strategy.
- Growth associated with improved public sector productivity and delivery (increased spending in the province by national departments on the provision of water, electricity and sanitation).
The Industrial Development Corporation has identified a number of growth areas in the Eastern Cape. These include:
- the motor vehicle industry;
- the East London Industrial Development Zone;
- agri-tech and food processing;
- service sectors that incorporate tourism and call centres; and
- activities linked to the integrated sustainable rural development strategy and urban renewal programmes of the national government.
Major companies in Buffalo City include:
- Mercedes-Benz SA
- Johnson & Johnson
- Marley Flooring
The East London Industrial Development Zone
IDZs are purpose-built industrial sites linked to an international port or airport, and are specifically designed to attract new investment in export-driven industries. The intention is to support these industries with world-class infrastructure, services and logistics networks. The East London Industrial Development Zone is one of only two IDZs that have been granted a licence so far.
The Mdantsane Urban Renewal Programme
The underlying objective of the South African government's urban renewal programme is to ensure that the programmes of the South African government on poverty alleviation, economic growth and environmental sustainability are implemented in an integrated way. Mdantsane was identified as one of the nodes for urban renewal by President Thabo Mbeki in his state of the nation address in February 2001.
Buffalo City boasts extraordinary tourist attractions and is rich in natural resources. The 68km of coastline includes 10 estuaries, conservancies, natural heritage sites, rocky shores and 14 sandy beaches.
The area is well suited to local tourism, ecotourism and historical tourism, especially that relating to the anti-apartheid struggle as many of South Africa's past and present political leaders hail from the region. More than 11 000 people visit Buffalo City during the peak holiday season. According to Tourism Buffalo City, 95% of visitors to the city are local, while 5% are international visitors.
The Indian Ocean coastline is the main feature - and attraction - of the Eastern area. The warm sea is good for swimming and fishing.
There are small resort developments at virtually all river mouths in the eastern part of the region.
East London, South Africa's only river port, is set on both the broad Buffalo River and Nahoon River and has the Gonubie River flowing around it. It is known as the gateway to the region's tourist corridors: the Sunshine Coast and the Wild Coast.
The Sunshine Coast is to the south and runs for more than 200km to Port Elizabeth. It includes Beacon Bay and the coastal towns of Gonubie and Kidd's Beach.
The Wild Coast is to the north. Rugged and unspoilt, the coastline is indigenous coastal forest. Resort areas and premier ecotourism destinations include Kwelera, Glen Eden, Cintsa West and Cinsta East, Haga-Haga, Morgan Bay and Kei Mouth.
Rich in history and culture
The Eastern Cape has played a prominent role in South African history. As Tourism Buffalo City points out in their very comprehensive overview of the history of the area, it was here where, in the latter half of the 18th century, black and white met for the first time. For many years this territory was the contact zone between these two groups. The consequences of this delicate and somewhat temperamental relationship made a lasting impression on the history of modern South Africa. Today, almost 200 years later, the Buffalo City community reflects this turbulent past in the kaleidoscope of its rich cultural heritage and proud history.