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Gqeberha | Port Elizabeth’s New Name, Meaning, History, Pronunciation

Havana Dauncey
· November 13, 2023
Gqeberha | Port Elizabeth’s New Name, Meaning, History, Pronunciation

The city of Gqeberha has also been a city of many names — the Windy City, the Friendly City, Port Elizabeth or shortened to PE. As one of South Africa’s biggest cities, it was pretty big news when the notion was put forth in 2016 to change the name of Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha. With opinions both for and against it, it became quite the topic of the town and was the name on everybody’s lips (of those who could pronounce it).

From its meaning and pronunciation to the various reasons behind the decision, here’s everything you need to know about Port Elizabeth’s new name — Gqeberha.

What is Port Elizabeth’s New Name?

Port Elizabeth is now officially called Gqeberha, with the change-over taking place in February 2021.

What Does Gqeberha Mean?

Gqeberha is a word taken from isiXhosa, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages and the local language spoken in the region. Gqueberha was chosen because it is the name that was previously used for the Baaken River that flows through the city as well as the Walmer township — one of the original townships in the area.

Wondering what living in Gqeberha is like? Read our article on life in PE

How to Pronounce Gqeberha

One of the biggest topics surrounding the name change to Gqeberha is the struggle for non-isiXhosa-speaking people to pronounce it. IsiXhosa is famous for its many unique click sounds, which is the main source of difficulty for non-native speakers of isiXhosa. And with the first sound of Gqeberha being a click found in the letter ‘q’, it’s been quite the mouth exercise for those trying to learn how to say it.

But don’t worry, once you get the click down, it’s pretty straightforward from there! For those of you who can the IPA, the official pronunciation of Gqeberha is [!ɛˈbɛəxə]. For everyone else, here’s a simple breakdown of how to pronounce Gqeberha

  1. You start the click ‘q’ which is an alveolar click made by placing your tongue on your palate (the top of your mouth) and pulling downwards to produce a popping sound

  2. Then you continue to say “berha” where the “rh” is pronounced at the back of the throat like the Afrikaans ‘g.’

Still not sure? Here’s a video to guide you on how to pronounce Gqeberha.

Why Did Port Elizabeth Change Its Name?

With all the backlash the name change to Gqeberha received, it’s important to know the reasons why Port Elizabeth changed its name.

Most of South Africa’s cities, landmarks and roads are named after English and Afrikaans figures from South Africa’s past. But since the end of apartheid and South Africa became a democracy, there has been a movement to change these names to traditionally South African names that represent the indigenous culture. Here’s why:

  • To move away from South Africa’s colonial past and avoid keeping the legacies of colonisers alive.

  • To honour the Xhosa, San, and Khoi, their language, their culture and their legacy.

  • To educate people on significant South African figures that have been forgotten or swept to the side.

  • To promote multilingualism and the learning of other languages by every South African.

This isn’t the first time a major city has changed names, and it likely won’t be the last. In 2002, Limpopo province became the new name for the Northern Province, with its capital city, Pietersburg changing to Polokwane. With the new names becoming fully integrated into South African society, there is hope that Gqeberha will become just as accepted and widely used.

The History of the Names of Gqeberha

History of Port Elizabeth Name

To understand how we got to this point with Gqeberha becoming the official name of South Africa’s coastal city, it’s good to know the history.

The bay surrounding the city of Gqeberha was originally given the name Algoa Bay (or Baia de Lagoa) by the original Portuguese settler, Manuel de Mesquita Perestrelo, in 1576 after the river flowing through it now known as the Baakens River.

Then in 1820, 4 000 British settlers arrived on the sandy shores sent by the Cape Colony and led by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, the acting governor of the Cape Colony. The motive for this move was to strengthen the border between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. In honour of his late wife, Donkin declared the settlement name Port Elizabeth.

Finally in 2021, with the aim to distance South Africa from its colonial past and represent the authentic South Africa, the name was changed to Gqeberha, embracing its Xhosa heritage and celebrating its iconic river. It was Boy Lamani of KwaMgxaki who proposed the name Gqeberha as a substitute for PE and South Africa’s Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa who announced the name change.

Other Important Name Changes in South Africa

Gqeberha is not the only place to have received a name change in recent years, especially in the Eastern Cape. To keep with the times, it’s important to stay up to date with South Africa’s new names:

  • Uitenhage changed to Kariega

  • Berlin changed to Ntabozuko

  • MaClear Town changed to Nqanqarhu

  • King William's Town changed to Qonce

  • Port Elizabeth International Airport changed to Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport

  • East London Airport changed to King Phalo Airport

Looking to Move to Gqeberha?

Are you looking to make Gqeberha your new home? Well, now that you can pronounce and know the history, you’re right on your way to becoming a local. To help get you to this special city, you’ll need a top-rated, affordable moving service by your side.

With Wise Move’s moving company platform, you can connect with trusted movers from all over South Africa — whether it’s a long-distance move across the country or just down the road.

Get your quote today and get ready to call Gqeberha your new home!

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