Business in Port Elizabeth

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VW Motor DisplayWith a port as the gateway to the world, Port Elizabeth is the heart of car country in South Africa. Ford was the first to establish an assembly line in Africa opening in Port Elizabeth in 1924. Two years later General Motors opened an assembly operation in a converted woolshed in Port Elizabeth. In 1928 Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs began to roll off the assembly line from the new premises of General Motors in Kempston Road on the “outskirts” of the city.

After the Second World War, SA Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD) opened its doors to produce Studebakers and Austins in the town of Uitenhage a few kilometers away. The first VW beetle rolled off the production line at SAMAD in 1951. In 1966 SAMAD became Volkswagen of South Africa.

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Wool washing in Port ElizabethWool washing, was one of the first large scale industries in Port Elizabeth and in the Eastern Cape. It was established in the 1840 by Thomas Handfields. In a region were sheep farming is a prosperous business, wool washing rapidly became an asset to the city's industrial growth.

In 1926 the new Port Elizabeth municipal wool market opened in the Baakens Valley. When the demand for wool soared during and after the Second World War, a new factory was built in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape in 1946 and named Fine Wool Products of SA. It is interesting to note that only 40 lbs of clean wool are extracted from every 100 lbs of original dirty wool that comes from the sheep!

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The Squid Fishing Industry has become a multi million rand source of income in the Eastern Cape. Fleets of sea going vessels with sophisticated fish finding technology are manned by large crews of fishermen who catch squid , also known as “Chokka” which are then packed and exported around the world. Chokka is a delicacy and fetches a high price in the restaurants of the world. Fishing boats with specialized equipment needed to sustain the fleets for up to three weeks go out to sea while they hunt down the shoals of Chokka off the coast from Port Elizabeth, Jeffreys Bay and St.Francis Bay..

“Squid feed at night which explains why the Chokka boats are fitted with tremendously bright lights,” explains Gary Lightfoot of Commercial Marine.. “The shoals of several thousand squid are attracted to the lights and are caught using the hand jigging method. When there are 20 to 30 boats out in the bay at night it is a spectacular sight. It is almost as bright as day!”

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SupertubesSurfing has become a highly popular sport, and the art of making surfboards has become a hi-tech industry. Several thousand boards are produced in South Africa per week! The process of designing and manufacturing long and short surfboards from a variety of components has become a highly specialized art. Many wave machines are no longer hand crafted but instead are mass-produced by computerized shaping machines. Whereas a brand new surfboard in 1968 cost around R49, in the year 2008 a new surfboard will set you back between R3000 to R5000 depending on its specs!

Durban, Port Elizabeth, Jeffreys Bay and Cape Town are the main centres for this craft. To find out more of the history of the industry, we interviewed surfing veteran Glen D’Arcy in Jeffreys Bay who has been in the surfboard industry for over 40 years.

For more about the Surfboard Industry in South Africa click here...


In the early 1980’s Cheron Kraak was offered the licence to manufacture Billabong in South Africa by good friend and Billabong founder, Australian Gordon Merchant.

Twenty-nine years later, Cheron built Country Feeling and Billabong up into a clothing empire with a multi-million rand annual turnover, encapsulating the unique lifestyle that surfing and Jeffreys Bay has to offer. A huge factory overlooking the surf at Kitchen Windows employs hundreds of staff who design, manufacture, market and ship the merchandise to the Billabong stores through South Africa and the rest of the world.

In 2005 Billabong was awarded the best female clothing label in South Africa as a result of the Generation Next Survey which is conducted by the Sunday Times newspaper.

For more about Billabong in South Africa click here...

Did You Know?

The Port Elizabeth Club was founded in May 1866.

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Last updated:
3 October 2012 7:51