How Port Elizabeth got its name

South African city of Port Elizabeth has been renamed to Gqeberha. The countries Arts and Culture minister Nathi Mthetwa announced a number of name changes for towns in South Africa that were named under the colonial rule.

“It’s official: Now, there is no longer a colonial city called Port Elizabeth. Our city is called Gqeberha. No area called Uitenhage, it’s now is Kariega. Thanks to Minister Nathi Mthethwa… siyabulela.”

Andile Lungisa

The new name ‘ Gqeberha‘ was submitted by Boy Lamani of KwaMagxaki, who explained that Gqeberha pronounced “Gqe (in a tongue click) be (bear) GHA (click bear gha) is the isiXhosa name for Walmer Township, one of the first and oldest Port Elizabeth townships.

The name change issue had been dragging on for about two years with residents submitting hundreds of objections to what were then proposals.


Port Elizabeth also known as PE

Port Elizabeth (now recently named Gqeberha )is a city on Algoa Bay in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.

The story of how Port Elizabeth got its name begins 200 years ago, at a time when British settlers began the arduous journey to the southern tip of Africa. In 1820, 4500 settlers landed at Algoa Bay.

Many had left their homes in search of a better future. immigrants captivated by the government’s promise of a new life on fertile South African land. The harsh reality of colonisation soon burnt away the idyllic dreams of peace and prosperity.

The British government subsidised the settlers into deceit. These families were placed on the South African frontier, in the Eastern Cape, to form a human shield between the Cape and the Xhosa tribes.

Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin was acting governor of the Cape Colony when the settlers first landed. How he ended up in South Africa is a sad tale of love lost and forms the foundation for Port Elizabeth’s own story.


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While still in Yorkshire, Donkin fell madly in love with Elizabeth Markham. They married young and became inseparable. This was not the custom for high ranking military officials; traditionally, their wives stayed home while they travelled the world.

However, Elizabeth followed her husband during his tours of duty.

In July 1815, a newly married Major-General Donkin received a posting to India; he was joined by his doting wife. Unfortunately, it was here that Elizabeth became gravely ill, with what some researchers believe to have been an upper respiratory infection.

Elizabeth Donkin died in August 1818, leaving behind her first-born son, George David.

Rufane Donkin was shattered by his wife’s passing. In fact, his heartache was so severe that he was placed on leave from his post.

His wife was buried in India, but Donkin had her heart embalmed.

Two years later, and still suffering from the traumatic effects of his wife’s untimely death, Donkin found himself in Algoa Bay, organising the 1820 settlers. He was officially the first governor of PE from the 6 June 1820 – 1821.

Donkin, wholly aggrieved and suffering from depression, named the small settlement near Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth, in honour of his deceased wife. The governor went further to immortalise the memory of his wife by building a pyramid-like structure called Donkin Memorial.

“In the memory of one of the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the name to the town below.”

Donkin Memorial / Image via Facebook: Kin Bentley

Donkin returned to England in 1832 and attempted to love once more, remarrying Anna Maria Elliot. However, the depression resulting from Elizabeth’s death lay heavy on his heart. Donkin was, by his own admission, unable to overcome the sorrow.

In August 1841, Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin committed suicide. He was buried alongside his wife, Elizabeth, in India – still holding her embalmed heart.