Pietermaritzburg is the capital of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. It was founded in 1838 and is popularly called Maritzburg in English and Zulu alike. Pietermaritzburg is also often referred to in its informal abbreviated form as PMB. The city is an important industrial hub in the region, producing aluminium, timber and dairy products. It’s also seen as the main economic hub of the Umgungundlovu District Municipality. The public sector is a major employer in Pietermaritzburg due to the local, district and provincial governments being located here.
There are two interpretations regarding the origin of the city’s name. Some believe it was named after Piet Retief and Gert Maritz, while others believe that was originally named after Piet Retief alone. Piet Retief’s full name was Pieter Maurits Retief. The area where Pietermaritzburg is situated was known as Umgungundlovu at the time of the rise of the Zulu Empire. Umgungundlovu can be translated from Zulu as “Place of the Elephant” or “The Elephant Wins”. Although the town is still called by its Voortrekker name, the municipality in which it is located bears the Zulu name.
Situated in the heart of the Natal Midlands, Pietermaritzburg is at its most beautiful in spring when masses of Azaleas burst into bloom. Numerous Victorian and Edwardian buildings and other landmarks reflect the British contribution to the development of Pietermaritzburg.
Pietermaritzburg is home to home many schools and tertiary education institutions, including a campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The University of KwaZulu-Natal was founded in 1910 as the Natal University College. It was one of the first universities in South Africa to provide education to black students. It became the University of KwaZulu-Natal on 1 January 2004.
Until the late – 1990s, the region where Pietermaritzburg is situated, was renowned for the production of high quality textile, clothing and footwear products. These industries have declined in the area due to lower production costs in Asia. Extensive timber plantations and numerous citrus farms contribute a significant share of Pietermaritzburg’s output. The Liberty Groups have made major investments in the area with the development of the Liberty Midlands Mall and Stay Easy hotel. Hulett’s Aluminium and Willowton cooking oil also contribute a substantial part of the region’s industrial output.
Pietermaritzburg is situated on the N3 highway, which is the primary route between the harbor city of Durban and Johannesburg. The city is served by the Pietermaritzburg Airport with regular scheduled services to Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Pieternaritzburg Railway Station is served by trains on the Johannesburg-Durban and Cape Town-Durban routes of Shosholoza Meyl. The city is also connected to other major cities in South Africa through daily bus services.
Some of the many tourist attractions of Pietermaritzburg include; The KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Imperial Hotel, Comrades House and SANBI Botanical Gardens. While the Albert Falls Nature Reserve, Howick Falls, Midmar Public Nature Reserve, Queen Elizabeth Park and World’s View are some of its natural attractions. Pietermaritzburg has a wide range of shops, accommodation and restaurants providing the ideal gateway to the Midlands and Drakensberg areas.
The old Supreme Court building opposite the city hall in Pietermaritzburg, completed in 1871, was converted into the Tatham Art Gallery in 1990. The ‘oldest house in town’, a double-storey thatched home with yellowwood beams and ceilings, was built for Petrus Pretorius in Boom Street in 1846. It has been restored, and forms part of the Voortrekker Museum. The KwaZuluNatal Museum in Pietermaritzburg is one of the largest general museums in the country, focuses on the human and natural history of southeast Africa. Officially opened in 1904, it traces its origins to the Natal Society founded in 1851. The museum has comprehensive collections of birds, reptiles, marine fish, insects, minerals and fossils. The cultural history and ethnological sections cover several of the southern African peoples, but especially the Zulus and early white settlers in Natal. These exhibits include a reconstructed Pietermaritzburg street from the Victorian period.
Every year in May/June the Comrades ultra marathon is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The city is also the starting point for the annual Dusi canoe marathon. The course runs along the Msunduzi River (formerly Duzi) to its confluence with the uMngeni, then along the uMngeni to its mouth at Durban’s Blue Lagoon. The uMngeni (‘place of acacia trees’) River, over the final 65 km of its journey from Albert Falls dam to the Indian Ocean, finds a particularly tortuous way through a tumble of hills that has become known as the Valley of a Thousand Hills, one of the region’s great natural features. Soon after entering the valley between these hills, the uMngeni is impounded by Nagle dam, built in 1950 to supply water to Durban. The dam, named for William Nagle, chairman of the works committee of Durban municipality, is dominated in the southwest by KwaZulu-Natal’s own Table Mountain (960 m), which the Zulus call emKhambathini (‘the place of giraffe acacia trees’).