Provincial capital is an industrial hub known for its Victorian buildings
Founded in 1838 and now run by the Msunduzi local municipality, Pietermaritzburg (or Maritzburg as many call it) is the KwaZulu-Natal provincial capital and the region’s second-largest city.
Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business chief executive Melanie Veness says the city is also regionally important as an industrial hub, producing aluminium, timber and dairy products. It has sound commercial and retail areas with the Maritzburg Mall along Church Street having been a thriving retail node for decades.
Among the more significant commercial and industrial investments into Pietermaritzburg was the announcement in 1996 that the boards of Hulett Aluminium and Tongaat Hulett had approved the R2.4 billion expansion programme in the rolled products business.
This investment increased the annual capacity of the rolling mill fourfold to 200 000 tons and paved the way for the company to expand its product range and sales into more than 65 countries.
A decade later Hulett Aluminium’s shareholders approved another R950 million investment project with Hulamin chief executive Richard Jacob indicating the JSE-listed company continued investing in aluminium rolling and extrusion technology to meet customers’ requirements.
Six weeks ago Jacob announced cheaper imports from China have significantly affected the company’s extrusions business and the company will close its Olifantsfontein facility to focus on the Pietermaritzburg site. A more beautiful side to the city’s business environment is its red face brick and wrap-around verandah buildings recognised as traditional Natal Victorian architecture.
The South African Heritage Resources Agency boasts an impressive list of heritage sites protected for their historic and architectural value, and the Pietermaritzburg City Hall lays claim to being the world’s largest brick building. Built from 1893 to 1900 and including a 47m tower, the building is a national monument and worthy of a place on any tourist’s itinerary.
In an article published in Getaway magazine in May 2017, historian and Durban Local History Museum researcher Steven Kotze said the “stunningly misguided branding campaign” for the city launched during the 1980s had the pay-off line “Last Outpost of the British Empire”.
While the exact intention remains unclear, Kotze believes the campaign possibly celebrated the red-brick broekie lace colonial architectural heritage as the city “carefully tended its mythical image of Victorian decorum with a particular focus on its mother lode of 19th century claybrick buildings that lined Church Street, the central spine of that identity”.
Despite modernisation across Pietermaritzburg, the short stretch in the traditional city centre from Church Street to Peter Kerchhoff Street and Chief Albert Luthuli Street (formerly Durban Road as the main connection between the two cities) still “conveys a sense of imperial complexity in ways the old bumper sticker couldn’t”.
Today a vast percentage of these old houses have been renovated and converted into commercial space as heritage of the past and hope for the future. As a reflection of prices, a stand-alone house with commercial property rights came to the market this week for R2.1m. Considered an ideal location for a professional practice, the 925m² property includes an outbuilding for additional income and sufficient covered and uncovered parking space.
Another 750m² office space, situated near the Deeds Office comprising two buildings, recently came to the market with a R5m price tag, while an 828m² retail space in Church Street came to the market for R6.75m.
Within the rental arena, prices differ in line with the overall space. A 220m² space currently commands rents around R75/m²; 110m² properties at R125/m² and 75m² properties at R100/m².
One of the more heart-warming transitions for the city’s old buildings belongs to the non-government organisation Project Gateway, located in the old prison.
The late 1980s was a time of intense political turmoil in the greater Pietermaritzburg area and pastors from various churches realised the church could not stand by and watch.
Project Gateway was formed as a response to the surrounding communities’ needs. In 1991, two years after the old prison closed down, Project Gateway was given this space from which to perform its miracles. Today the centre still equips and empowers local communities through its care, education and empowerment programmes.
Many business operate from converted red brick houses
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Advantages of strategic location
Regional industrial hub
Currently the second-largest city in KwaZulu-Natal and the seat of the provincial parliament, Pietermaritzburg is a key industrial hub producing aluminium, timber and dairy products.
The city is home to an enviable list of educational institutions from private and top-achieving government schools to the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus and other tertiary institutions. These educational facilities have been the training ground for numerous successful businessmen and women, academics and sportsmen and women. They include crickeketer Jonty Rhodes, writers Bessie Head and Alan Paton and British-based psychologist and academic Adrian Furnham.
Situated on the N3 national freeway, Pietermaritzburg lies on the primary road transport route between Gauteng and Durban. It is also served by the Pietermaritzburg Oribi Airport with regular scheduled flights to OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng, while the railway station is served by trains on the JoburgDurban route of the Shosholoza Meyl.
Tourism attractions and lifestyle
The city’s history means Pietermaritzburg and its surroundings are littered with historical attractions and places of interest including museums, monuments, art galleries and the botanical gardens. Some of the lifestyle elements include worldclass shopping centres like Capital Centre, The Mall @ Scottsville, the Golden Horse Casino, Liberty Midlands Malls, Greater Edendale Mall and the 033 Lifestyle. Beyond the city are several nature reserves including Albert Falls, Howick, Midmar, Queen Elizabeth Park and World’s View.