Prior to the advent of the railways, long distance travel was arduous at best and tediously long to boot. Imagine being jolted for days on end on an ox-wagon. Every single depression, or stone protruding from the ground along the way, would be felt. Unlike Europe, the Romans had never constructed roads in South Africa. In the Cape Colony, bush tracks ultimately became the “roads” through usage and not by design.
After the age of the post cart came the coaches, an imported concept from the American Wild West.
Main picture: Geo. Alcock & Sons Coach Builders, Blacksmiths & Farriers, Korsten, Port Elizabeth
Just as the slump and ultimate decline in the wool industry in the late nineteenth century made the future economic prospects of Port Elizabeth bleak, so too does the motor vehicle industry’s relocation to the economic hub of South Africa portend a grim future for the town.
After the booming nineteen fifties and sixties, the seventies awoke to new realities which the City Fathers had not contemplated: the decline of its manufacturing base. This process was ineluctable as the vortex of demand in Gauteng sucked manufacturers ever inward. Far from its market, aspersions were cast on Port Elizabeth’s manufacturing credentials. Instead of adapting to this reality, it persevered with the previous one. Simply put, its strategy should have been a focus on economic activities decoupled from Gauteng such as tourism, medicines manufacture and development, movie making, technology development et al.
In retrospect, the stages of development of the motor vehicle industry in Port Elizabeth are now at an end. Hence it allows one to analyse dispassionately it’s still warm corpse.
This blog deals with its stages of development as a requiem mass is held after the demise of yet another motor manufacturing icon, General Motors, at the age of 95 years.
General Motors is a fitting metaphor of this process and is replete with all these elements.
Main picture: General Motors’ factory
Most of what is nowadays known as the Eastern Province was devoid of whites prior to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers. Notwithstanding that fact, a sprinkling of intrepid Dutch farmers did farm in the area between the Gamtoos River and the Great Fish River. By all accounts, it was a precarious existence at best. Not only were they at the mercy of marauding bands of indigenous tribesmen but they were also in danger from large predatory animals.
In spite of all these clear and present dangers, numerous indomitable adventurers also traversed this treacherous landscape. One such person was Henry Lichtenstein, a German medical doctor and a professor of natural history at the University of Berlin.
This is his story as recorded in his book entitled Travels in Southern Africa in the years 1803, 1804, 1805 & 1806.
Main picture: Henry Lichtenstein
Spare a thought for explorers, adventurers and soldiers of the nineteenth century. Nothing today comes close to their sense of isolation from their family and friends as these intrepid souls departed from their hometowns. It is reasonable to assume that the departing spouse was virtually non-contactable from the moment that they sailed away.
One such character was Jacob Glen Cuyler who would arrive in South Africa via an extremely circuitous route. He become an important character and play a prominent role in the settlement of the British Settlers in the Eastern Cape.
His assistance to the arriving settlers is commemorated in a street adjacent to Fort Frederick, known as Cuyler Crescent and which becomes Cuyler Street as it heads inland.
Main picture: Captain Jacob Glen Cuyler