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Pietermaritzburg is the capital and second largest city of the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. It was founded in 1838. Its "purist" Zulu name is umGungundlovu, and this is the name used for the district authoritymarker. Pietermaritzburg is popularly called Maritzburg in English and Zulu alike, and often informally abbreviated to PMB. It is a regionally important industrial hub, producing aluminium, timber and dairy products. It is home to many schools and tertiary education institutions, including a campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natalmarker. It had a population of 228,549 in 1991; the estimated current population in Msunduzi Municipality is between 500,000 and 600,000 (of which 25% to 30% are identified as Indians or Whites).


The city was originally founded by the Voortrekkers, following the defeat of Dingane at the Battle of Blood Rivermarker, and was the capital of the short-lived Boer republic, Natalia. Britainmarker took over Pietermaritzburg in 1843 and it became the seat of the Natal Colony's administration with the first lieutenant-governor, Martin West, making it his home. Fort Napier, named after the governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Thomas Napier, was built to house a garrison. In 1893 Natal received responsibility for their own government and an assembly building was built along with the city hall. In 1910, when the Union of South Africa was formed, Natal became a province of the union, and Pietermaritzburg remained the capital.


There exist two interpretations about the origin of the city's name. One is that it was named after Piet Retief and Gert (Gerrit) Maritz, two famous Voortrekker leaders. The other is that it was originally named after Piet Retief alone, since his full name was Pieter Mouriets Retief. In this interpretation the original name was "Pieter Mouriets Burg", later transliterated to the current name (Jenkins, 1971:11).

Retief was killed by Dingane, successor to Shaka, king of the Zulus. Maritz died in battle with the Zulus at Bloukranz, some hundreds of kilometres further North and so did not ever reach the Pietermaritzburg area. In 1938, however, the city announced officially that the second element Maritz should also honour Gert Maritz.

At the time of the rise of the Zulu Empire, the site that was to become Pietermaritzburg was called Umgungundlovu. This is popularly translated from the Zulu as "Place of the Elephant", although it could also be translated to mean "The elephant wins". Umgungundlovu is thus thought to be the site of some Zulu king's victory, since "Elephant" (Indlovu) is a name traditionally taken by the Zulu monarch. Legend has it that Shaka had his warriors hunt elephant there to sell the ivory to English traders at Durban (then called Port Natal). Today, the town is still called by its Voortrekker name, although the municipality it is part of bears the Zulu name.


During apartheid, the city was segregated into various sections. 90% of the Indian population was moved to the suburb of Northdale while most of its Zulu inhabitants were moved to the neighbouring township of Edendale.

Clock tower of the university's Collin Webb Hall

The University

The University of Natal was founded in 1910 as the Natal University College and extended to Durbanmarker in 1922. The two campuses were incorporated into the University of Natal in March 1949. It became a major voice in the struggle against Apartheid, and was one of the first universities in the country to provide education to black students. This campus boasts association with a remarkable array of world-class academics and has famous alumni distributed throughout the world. It became the University of KwaZulu-Natalmarker on 1 January 2004.

Mahatma Gandhi

Pietermaritzburg is also famous for an incident early in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. In May 1893, while Gandhi was on his way to Pretoriamarker, a white man objected to Gandhi's presence in a first-class carriage, and he was ordered to move to the van compartment at the end of the train. Gandhi, who had a first-class ticket, refused, and was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg. Shivering through the winter night in the waiting room of the station, Gandhi made the momentous decision to stay on in South Africa and fight the racial discrimination against Indians there. Out of that struggle emerged his unique version of nonviolent resistance, Satyagraha. Today, a bronze statue of Gandhi stands in Church Street, in the city centre.

Other historical events

  • The first newspaper in Natal, the Natal Witness (now known as The Witness), was published in 1846.
  • The 46 hectare Botanic Gardens were created in 1872 by the Botanic Society of Natal.
  • The city hall, which is the largest red-brick building in the Southern Hemisphere, was destroyed by fire in 1895, but was rebuilt in 1901.
  • The Britishmarker built an internment camp here during the Second Boer War to house Boer women and children.
  • In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested in the nearby town of Howickmarker to the north of Pietermaritzburg. The arrest marked the beginning of Nelson Mandela's 27 years of imprisonment. A small monument has been erected at the location of his arrest.

Capital status

Prior to the end of apartheid in 1994, Pietermaritzburg was the capital of Natal Province. Following the first post-apartheid elections in South Africa, as a result of which the Inkatha Freedom Party won a majority in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, Pietermaritzburg shared its status as capital of the (then newly-created) province of KwaZulu-Natal with Ulundimarker. Pietermaritzburg became the legislative capital of the new province, while Ulundi became the administrative capital. The IFP, being strongly Zulu nationalist, desired that Ulundi, the capital of the Zulu Kingdom at the time of its fall to the British in the Anglo-Zulu War, be the post-apartheid capital of the province. Ulundi had also been the capital of the bantustan KwaZulu, which makes up a portion of modern KwaZulu-Natal. However, Ulundi severely lacked the infrastructure to be an effective seat of government, and the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Party, the two other strong political parties in the province, among others, called for Pietermaritzburg alone to be the capital. The debate came to an end when the ANC came to power in the province in 2004, and named Pietermaritzburg the sole capital of KwaZulu-Natal. This has resulted in the relocation of several government offices to Pietermaritzburg. This has generally been welcomed as a positive development for the region. Since 2004, progress such as the modernization of several buildings in the city centre and a proliferation of retail and housing developments in the suburbs are results of recent investment in the city by both the public and private sectors.


Pietermaritzburg is on the major road arterial between the Pretoria-Johannesburg-Witwatersrand conurbation and the harbour city of Durban, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Pietermaritzburg. The city is served by Pietermaritzburg-Oribi Airport. The airport provides domestic air services to Johannesburg and Cape Town. There is also a railway station in the city centre that connects directly to Durban and Johannesburg and indirectly to other major cities in South Africa.

Geography and climate

Climate Table
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Highest recorded temperature (°C) 41 39 38 37 37 31 32 35 39 40 41 42 42
Average daily maximum temperature (°C) 28 28 28 26 24 22 23 24 25 25 26 28 26
Average daily minimum temperature (°C) 18 17 16 12 7 3 3 6 10 13 15 16 11
Lowest recorded temperature (°C) 9 10 5 1 -1 -4 -4 -3 -1 2 5 6 -4
Average monthly precipitation (mm) 141 117 113 48 24 13 11 31 60 74 104 108 844
Average number of rain days (>= 1 mm) 18 16 15 10 5 3 3 5 10 15 19 19 138
Source: South African Weather Service


The Comrades Marathon takes place annually in June between Pietermaritzburg and Durbanmarker. It has been run since 1921 and attracts thousands of entrants. The start of the race alternates between the two cities.

In January there is an annual canoe race, Dusi Canoe Marathon, from Pietermaritzburg to Durbanmarker. The route follows the Msunduzi River into the Mgeni River, through the Valley of a Thousand Hills into the Inanda Dam and from here to the mouth of the Mgeni River.

The Midmar Mile is one of the largest open-water swimming events in the world; taking place at Midmar Dam, north of Pietermaritzburg in February every year, it attracts over 16,000 swimmers from around the world.

The most prominent soccer club is Maritzburg United, which plays in the Premier Soccer League.

The Pietermaritzburg Ovalmarker is considered one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in South Africa, and it hosted two matches during the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

Pietermaritzburg cricket ground is notable as one of the two grounds used regularly for first-class cricket that have a tree within the boundary (the other is St Lawrence Groundmarker in Canterburymarker, Kentmarker).

Between December 1953 and November 1981 Pietermaritzburg had an international standard motor racing circuit located on the outskirts of the city. The Roy Hesketh circuit measured . The circuit was named after South African driver Roy Hesketh. During its period of operation it hosted rounds of the South African National Drivers Championship, the Springbok Series and national Formula Atlantic races. The circuit was also like a second home to Mike Hailwood. The track was famous for hosting the Easter races as well - a festival of racing over three days. The expansion of the town of Pietermaritzburg eventually led to the redevelopment of the site as a residential and business zone after racing ceased at the end of 1981. The section from Henry's Knee to the top of Beacon still exists, and is undergoing protection from further development as an important piece of Pietermaritzburg's history.

Educational Institutions

Pietermaritzburg is served by a number of schools and tertiary institutions. The University of KwaZulu-Natalmarker is the largest educational institution in the city.

Educational Institutions of Pietermaritzburg

Famous residents


  • Built in 1900, the City Hall was then the largest all-brick building in the southern hemisphere. It was declared a national monument in 1969.
  • At 14 metres high, the statue Pegasus adorning the entrance of the Golden Horse Casino is the largest statue of a horse in the world.


  1. 1991 Census
  2. Springbok Series - Sportscar championship in South Africa, that was run usually during winter. Until 1963 was Springbok series for F1 cars. Championship ended in 1973 after two races due to the Middle East oil crisis and never was restarted again...
  3. South African Springbok Trophy Series - South African endurance sports car championship. It was usually held during the winter when the main season had been finished. Until 1963 the Springbok series was destined for F1 cars before it switched to mixed sports car and touring car field. The main race of the series was well known Kyalami 9 Hours, which enjoyed good international competition. Also many of the other races were well supported. Sports cars were limited to two litres in 1970 but three litre cars were still allowed in the main 9 hour event, so even factory Ferrari took the challenge and won in Kyalami three consecutive times during 1970-72 period facing opposition of Porsche 917 and other great machinery of the time. The championship ended up in 1973 after only two races due to the Middle East oil crisis and was never restarted again. The Kyalami event was then shortened to 6 hours and became part of the World Manufacturers Championship, but only for a single season. It then continued under various rules sets and distances over the next decade appearing two more times in the World Sports Car Championship calendar (1983 and 1984 - but the latter was a complete fiasco and it never returned in its full 1000 km distance, nor as part of the WSPC. Just a few shorter races were held for a few more years to come but 1985.


  • Jenkins, G. 1971. A Century of History: the story of Potchefstroom. 2nd ed. AA Balkema. Cape Town. 120 p.

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