I wrote this piece for Traveller24 in April, but since Port Elizabeth’s claim to fame is that it is so lame, I thought I’d share it again, and on my blog.
“Where are you from” is a general conversation starter but when you answer the question with ‘Port Elizabeth’ the mood often changes and you’re met with typical remarks and/or question about the place you call home.
And when I say typical, I mean typical, because there are generally 4 different ways to react to “I live in Port Elizabeth”.
1. Ahh the Windy City
Ahh yes, the Windy City remark, the broken record that the people of the Bay constantly have to back with, “We’re also the Friendly City.”
The wind of the Bay holds many treasures and hidden facts within its gusts. Firstly, the wind is not all bad; it cleans the air and the industrial smog.
Secondly, the wind is Port Elizabeth’s hidden weapon to prevent overpopulation along our shores.
Thirdly, the outskirts of Port Elizabeth as well as other places in the Eastern Cape are playing a big role in the growth of renewable energy sources in the form of wind farms. Yes, can you imagine that? Jeffreys Bay, another town where you can be sure of experiencing wind, supplies Eskom with 460 000 Mwh per year (from the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm).
Fourthly, in the name of facts, the strongest wind gust ever in South Africa occurred at Beaufort West on 16 May 1984 and measured 186 km/h.
Fifthly, fine Port Elizabeth has some wind but we don’t have viral videos of people hanging on for dear life to traffic lights thanks to something called, ‘The Cape Doctor’. Also, how about this excerpt from the South African Weather Service: “If one uses the Beaufort Wind Scale, wind only really becomes felt by human beings when the wind speed exceeds 1.5 m/s. Cape Town experiences wind of 1.6 m/s or more on 95.6% of the days of the year and Port Elizabeth on 95.7% of the days of the year.”
It is 0.2% extra, let’s not make a big fuss of it, besides, Cape Point is still windier than Port Elizabeth. And then, let’s just take into consideration that East London is South Africa’s least calm city; it might not be the windiest, the wind might not blow your hat off but wind-free days are a foreign blow for the city.
On behalf of all Port Elizabethans, can we please stop talking about the wind EVERY SINGLE DAMN TIME we mention that we are from the Bay?
2. But what’s there to do in Port Elizabeth?
If you ask the same question to folks in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban you’ll find that we all share a few common things that can keep visitors and/or locals busy.
There is talk of good restaurants, shops and big malls, museums, hiking trails and a mountain to climb, markets, art galleries, a place to go fishing, a place with animals, a place with history and of course a beach and ocean with all the activities it offer (sorry Jozi, you have to sit the last one out).
So dear naysayer, did you know that we also have good restaurants, shops, malls, museums, hiking trails, a mountain to climb, markets, art galleries, a place to go fishing, a place with animals, a place with history and the beach and the ocean, plus, it is Port Elizabeth, everything is cheaper here so you’ll get more bang for your buck with your Jozi dollars or CT pounds.
We also boast a national park in a malaria-free environment, an ocean warmer than the Atlantic, less sharky than the coast of KZN and less crowded beaches, our hipsters a minority, ‘traffic’ is a joke and within 1 to 3 hours from Port Elizabeth you can be either in the Garden Route, surf mecca Jeffreys Bay, the Karoo, Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve, Hogsback, attend the National Arts Festival or start a Wild Coast journey… to name a few.
Trust us; there are loads of things to do in Port Elizabeth.
And if you are a local complaining that there is nothing to do in the Bay, please remove your blinders: start exploring and start supporting locally.
Also, it is impossible to compare Port Elizabeth to South Africa’s other bigger cities; PE moves by its own rhythm and restaurants, entertainment, activities etc move alongside that rhythm. Change happens slowly but surely and its success often lies within the speed – take our markets for example and how it has not only expanded, but developed into new events and ventures.
3. I actually really like PE!
The tone of voice found in the ‘I actually really like PE’ remark can often be translated to ‘my deepest condolences’. Time and again, outsiders will confess their love for PE (and of course throw in a ‘if only it wasn’t as windy’) in such a way that it feels as if they are pitying you for living in Port Elizabeth.
The ‘I actually really like PE’ remark sounds as if you are trying to justify your reason for liking Port Elizabeth but get a gold star at the same time for loving the city that Gareth Cliff once called the “armpit” of Africa.
4. Ag shame!
The last remark doesn’t sugarcoat anything. They question all of the above-mentioned remarks in one go, and without shame they’ll tell you just how much they hate Port Elizabeth. They’ll rip the city to pieces, comment on the people, the state of things in the Bay, say that there is no culture, make jokes about our lack of this chain and that franchise, talk about politics, the Boardwalk and what it could’ve been, the education department and of course, the wind.
But more than often, after a few drinks, the ‘ag shamers’ will confess that they grew up in PE, Despatch or Uitenhage, that they went to university in Port Elizabeth and found greener grass in another city but, during the confession – after one more drink – their eyes will fill with nostalgia while admitting that they miss the laid-back atmosphere of the Bay dearly, they visit their family every December and before you know it emotions get high and you’re consoling an ex-local. Ag shame.
But why this attitude towards PE?
On a plane a few months ago I paged through the most recent High Life (British Airways’ in-flight magazine), and noticed an article on Port Elizabeth. The article shines some positive light on PE and on the people of PE, but the title “So what’s with PE, then?” and the introduction blurb trots down the same path so many other articles about Port Elizabeth have trotted down before.
It is always something like, ‘Port Elizabeth, more than just wind’ or ‘Overlooked Port Elizabeth makes for a great holiday’ or ‘Spend some time in South Africa’s most underrated city’ or ‘Visit the ghost by the coast’.
What is up with all this negativity and constant demeaning connection when talking about Port Elizabeth even when the conversation has a positive twist to it? Why lead with wind, why call it an underrated or overlooked city?
It is 2018.
When will the rest of South Africa allow Port Elizabeth to come out of the shadow of the bigger cities?
Year after year Nelson Mandela Bay plays host city to the Ironman. Cruise liners dock in Port Elizabeth’s Harbour. Foreign visitors start or end their Garden Route trip here in the Bay and they travel through our streets on their way to luxurious malaria-free game reserves. Addo Elelphant National Park has some of the highest occupancy rates out of all of South Africa’s national parks. Port Elizabeth and the rest of Nelson Mandela Bay has culture, it has history, nature, heritage, good food, its own energy and friendly people.
South Africa, it’s time to stop comparing Port Elizabeth to other cities. It’s time for the winds of change to blow on through.