04 February 2013 by Stuart Dickinson

Donkin Reserve: Remembering Port Elizabeth’s past

Located in the heart of Port Elizabeth overlooking the windswept coastline is the Donkin Reserve, a small park that pays tribute to the city’s rich history.

Donkin Reserve is home to the tallest flagpole in Africa, and the largest South African flag in the world

Recent urban renewal projects have breathed new life back into the city districts of Port Elizabeth (PE). The most famous of these are the Donkin Reserve memorial, named after PE’s founder, Sir Rufane Donkin, and the newly established Route 67 art meander, which winds from this well-known memorial off Belmont Terrace down to the nearby beachfront.

Each is a tribute to the development of PE, its intriguing history, as well as the political struggles and sacrifices made by former president Nelson Mandela in the years he fought to abolish apartheid.

Standing on the bright mosaic floor near the Donkin Lighthouse, Jonker Fourie of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism tells us how the city was founded under Sir Rufane, an officer in the British army, and the sad story that led him to take his own life in 1841. Above us, the largest South African flag in the world is carried by a strong breeze.

Two months after Sir Rufane married Elizabeth Frances Markham in 1815, he was posted to India, where Lady Elizabeth gave birth to their son in 1817. Things took a turn for the worse, however. Weakened from the birth, she died of a fever eight months afterwards.

Sir Rufane was devastated and decided to return to England, but on the way back he was recalled to the Cape Colony to act as governor in 1819. One of his duties was to welcome British settlers to Algoa Bay (the bay in which PE is situated) in 1820, where he found a small town with no name.

He called it Port Elizabeth in honour of his wife, and built a stone pyramid on a hill overlooking the ocean. It carries a touching personal message: 'In the memory of one the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the town below.'

Even though he remarried, Sir Rufane never overcame the grief of losing his beloved wife, and took his own life on the 26th anniversary of their wedding.

It carries a touching personal message: ‘In the memory of one the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the town below.’

Within the Donkin Reserve, you’ll also find a sculpture by well-known artist Anton Momberg, which pays tribute to the women who have contributed to PE’s growth over the years. Further down the park, at the base of the flagpole, you’ll find the beginning/end of the Route 67 art trail, so named to commemorate the 67 years that Nelson Mandela contributed to South African politics and the struggle to abolish apartheid.

Once finished, 67 artworks will be strategically placed along a meander that runs from the nearby beachfront, up the CBD, ending in the Donkin Reserve. You’ll also be able to climb up the Donkin Lighthouse, which offers sweeping views of the surrounding city and ocean.

'People are starting to come back here, and it’s encouraging to hear all of their positive comments,' says Jonker. 'I often hear remarks about how much the area has changed for the better.'

Visit the friendly city of PE and see for yourself!

Category: Culture & History

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