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 Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

PMB Town Hall

Pietermaritzburg is the capital and second largest city of the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. It was founded in 1838. Popularly called Maritzburg, and abbreviated PMB, it is home to a campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and is a major producer of aluminium as well as timber and dairy products. It had a population of 228,549 in 1991; the estimated current population is between 350,000 and 500,000.PMB_map

This magnificent example of Victorian architecture is the largest red-brick building in the Southern Hemisphere. The city was originally founded by the Voortrekkers, following the defeat of Dingane at the Battle of Blood River, and was the capital of the short-lived Boer republic, Natalia. Britain 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 Maurits Retief. 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.

The University of Natal was founded in 1910 as the Natal University College and extended to Durban 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-Natal on 1 January 2004.

Pietermaritzburg is also famous for an incident early in the life of Mahatma Gandhi, wherein he was thrown off a train for refusing to go sit in third-class seating due to a white man not having a seat; even though the Mahatma held a valid first-class ticket. This incident inspired Gandhi to begin his career protesting against laws discriminating against Indians in South Africa. Today, a bronze statue of Gandhi stands in Church Street, in the city centre.


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