Directional South Africa

On March 16, 2017 · 4 Comments

A few months ago, Twelve Mile Circle featured Directional West Virginia. It focused on the situation of a state with a direction in its name, as well as various places within the state that also featured directions. Why should some random corner of the United States have all of the fun? Entire countries featured directional prefixes. I could play the same game on a national level. That thought struck me when I noticed a visitor landing on 12MC from the city of East London in South Africa.

East London


East London, Undated
City Hall of East London, South Africa. Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton on Flickr (cc)

East London hugged the South African coastline on the southeastern side of the nation (map). A respectable number of people lived there too, about a quarter million in the city proper and nearing eight hundred thousand in its larger metropolitan area. It also occupied a strategic spot, the site of the only river port in South Africa. Because of that, Governor, Sir Harry Smith annexed this area at the mouth of the Buffalo River on behalf of the Cape Colony in 1848. He called it East London.

I wondered about the name. The London part seemed obvious. Why East, though? Using Great Circle distances and simple mathematics, it seemed that East London fell nearly 5 times farther south of its namesake than east of it. Logically, shouldn’t it be South London? Maybe Governor Smith named it for the East London section of London, or perhaps its smaller subset, the East End of London. I don’t know.

Nonetheless, a lot of people lived in East London, South Africa, a name referencing two distinct directions.


Cape Tripoint



A large area abutting the Cape of Good Hope traded hands between Dutch and British interests several times between the late Seventeenth and early Nineteenth Centuries, before Britain established stable control. It became a self-governing part of the British Empire and then became a large section of South Africa as it formed. The Cape Colony changed its name to Cape Province upon South African independence. Then in 1994, after the end of Apartheid, it split into three provinces. Each part featured a different directional prefix: Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Northern Cape.

I couldn’t figure out the basis of the split. The borders didn’t seem to follow geographic features like rivers or ridges. Nonetheless they also seemed jagged. While I found numerous sources that explained that the split happened in 1994, none of them discussed why officials drew the lines as they came to pass. I assumed it must have been based on cultural divisions.

Even so, and while I hated not being able to solve the riddle, the split created a wonderful tripoint. Visitors to that spot could stand on three different directional provinces at the same time, the exact place where Eastern, Western and Northern points all came together. I would love to know if people in South Africa visited the tripoint and appreciated it. The Intertubes didn’t solve the mystery. Two clusters of stone appeared as I drilled down on the satellite image. One seemed to be too large, very likely a natural feature. The other, well, it might have been a rock or it might have been a boundary marker. Google Map’s boundary lines are often off by a few metres so it’s possible.

It certainly deserved a marker!


East to West



Lord Charles Somerset ruled as Cape Colony governor for several years, from 1814 to 1826. Naturally, his fingerprints appeared upon various features of the colonial landscape due to his influential position. For instance, a settlement grew near Cape Town beginning in 1822 and it became Somerset. A few years later, Lord Somerset founded a town farther to the east that he decided to name for himself. That might have caused some confusion so the original Somerset became Somerset West (map) and the new town became Somerset East (map). I’m not sure how much of a problem it really would have caused, actually. Quite a long distance separated them. Still, they both fell within the Cape Colony so I guess it made good sense to differentiate them.

After the 1994 split of Cape Province, Somerset West became part of Western Cape and Somerset East became part of Eastern Cape. They could both become Somerset without a prefix now if someone cared enough to change the names.


A Place with Every Direction


Sea of Gold
Sea of Gold: Match 24 – 2010 FIFA World Cup
Photo by Drew Douglas on Flickr (cc)

The name Rustenburg came from Afrikaans/Dutch, meaning the Town of Rest. It became one of the Boer’s earliest northern settlements. The town didn’t stay restful for long, however. Lands near Rustenburg became battlefields in 1899 during the Second Boer War. In more recent history, Rustenburg served as one of the host cities during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Several matches took place at Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Why did any of that matter? Only because I discovered what might be the most directional place in the entire country. Someone could live on East Street (map) in Rustenburg Oos-Einde (East End), in the North West Province of South Africa. That made it East-East-North-West-South, for those of you keeping score at home.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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