Port of Cape Town
Review and History

The Port of Cape Town lies on the shores of Table Bay at the north end of the Cape Peninsula about 108 kilometers south-southeast of the Port of Saldhana and about 280 kilometers west-northwest of the Port of Mossel Bay in South Africa. The Port of Cape Town is the capital of South Africa and of the Western Cape Province. A cultural and commercial center, it has been an important regional port for many years. In 2005, over three million people lived in the Port of Cape Town urban area.

The Port of Cape Town is the Western Cape’s major economic and manufacturing center as well as its main seaport. The site of many international conferences, the Port of Cape Townis South Africa’s second biggest city. It is home to many major corporate headquarters of companies in the insurance, retail sales, publishing, fashion and design, advertising, petrochemicals, and shipping industries. It is also a growing center for the energy sector. The Port of Cape Town is also South Africa’s most popular tourist destination.

Port History

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans inhabited the region around the Port of Cape Town as long ago as 15 thousand years. The first written record of the Port of Cape Town area was made in 1486 by explorer Bartolomeu Dias from Portugal.

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company sent Jan van Riebeeck to set up a way-station for Dutch ships. When the new settlement could not find enough labor to develop the area, they imported slaves from Madagascar and Indonesia. The settlement was under intermittent Dutch rule until the British took over.

In the mid-1700s during the Seven Years’ Wars, British and French ships called at the port often. British travelers began to call the town “Cape Town,” which in Afrikaans is “Kaapstad.” The British attempted to occupy the Port of Cape Town in 1781 for its strategic advantage; however, a French fleet built a garrison there to help the Dutch defenders. After the French arrived, the Port of Cape Town underwent a burst of prosperity and building.

The British took control of many Dutch colonies when the Netherlands was occupied during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Great Britain took the Port of Cape Town in 1795, although it was returned to the Netherlands in 1803. In 1800, the Port of Cape Town had only 200 houses despite its growth, and it was called De Kaap (The Cape). The British occupied the town in 1806 after the Battle of Bloubergstrand and assumed permanent rule in 1814 with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty. During the 1800s, the new British Cape Colony grew quickly.

In 1834, the slaves in the Port of Cape Town were freed, although they had to work four years as indentured servants. By 1840, about 20 thousand people lived in the Port of Cape Town, and the municipality was established. By 1867, the Port of Cape Town had a full municipal government.

After 1881, several new towns grew up in the surrounding area. Roads were improved, and an electric tramway was installed. The need for fresh water supplies and waste disposal led to the consolidation of urban centers. In 1913, the City of Greater Cape Town was formed.

Diamonds were discovered in Griqualand West in 1869, and gold was discovered in Witwatersrand in 1886. These discoveries brought many new immigrants to South Africa. At the turn of the century, the Second Boer War ended in British victory and their possession of two former Boer republics. The British unified the Port of Cape Town Colony with the defeated republics and with their Natal colony to form the Union of South Africa with the Port of Cape Town as its capital.

After World War II, the Port of Cape Town experienced rapid growth in both population and industry. The Port of Cape Town was expanded, new industrial sites were created, and modern buildings appeared in the central business district.

Elections in 1948 brought the National Party to power, and their policy of apartheid (racial segregation) was implemented throughout South Africa. Areas were classified by race, and areas that had been multi-racial were eliminated or razed. District Six was declared a whites-only area, and 60 thousand residents were forced out before all housing was destroyed. The Cape area became a “Coloured labour” area.

Unlike other cities in South Africa, the Port of Cape Town did not have the extreme racial barriers during much of the 20th Century. Citizens protested the removal of non-whites from the electoral rolls by national legislation in 1972. In 1989, about 40 thousand residents participated in a peaceful demonstration against apartheid.

Many of the anti-apartheid leaders made their homes in the Port of Cape Town, and many political prisoners were held at the nearby penitentiary on Robben Island. In 1990, Nelson Mandela made his first speech from Cape Town City Hall just hours after being released from prison, starting a new era for South Africa.

In 1994, the first democratic election was held in South Africa, and the country changed forever. Since that time, the Port of Cape Town’s economy had grown significantly, largely as a result of increased tourism and a real estate boom. Today, the Port of Cape Town wrestles with serious health issues like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, drug related crimes, and inter-cultural violence.

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