Smith family photo
Pietermaritzburg City Hall
Smith family photo
Pietermaritzburg City Hall
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith’s hometown is South Africa's second largest city at 500,000 population and capital of the KwaZulu-Natal Province in the southeast part of the country on the Indian Ocean. Pietermaritzburg was founded in 1838, but had been settled by black farming communities at least 1,200 years before.

Popularly called “Martizburg” in English and Zulu languages, the city is an important industrial hub for aluminum, timber and dairy. Also nicknamed the “City of Flowers,” Pietermaritzburg blooms with proteas, bougainvilleas and azaleas.

In the early 19th Century, the upper Msunduzi River Valley was inhabited by several small chiefdoms. The chiefdom that controlled the area where the city now stands was led by a woman, Machibise.

Each chiefdom consisted of fewer than 2,000 people who lived in areas approximately 100 square miles.

By the 1810s, the region around Pietermaritzburg was in political upheaval.  Groups migrated southward to escape conflict brought about by the Zulu leader, King Shaka, who was expanding his empire by creating a centralized Zulu state with an army and civil servants.

The migrating groups were bigger and more powerful than the small valley chiefdoms, and they began seizing cattle and other resources from the locals to support their own people. Members of the small chiefdoms had little choice but to submit or go into hiding in the forests surrounding their former home.

The new tribes that had seized control of the area paid tribute to the Zulu kingdom’s leaders via tributes of pelts and crane feathers, which were highly sought after by Zulu warriors.

Dutch-speaking Voortrekkers (“great trek”) traveled to the Natal area in their wagons after becoming disenchanted with the British administration.

Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer. They were descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier during the 18th Century.

Once they arrived, the Voortrekkers clashed with the Zulus, but gained power as their numbers grew, and eventually established the village as their new capital.

Many believe Pietermaritzburg was named for two famous Voortrekker leaders, Piet Retief and Gert Maritz. In fact, Retief never made it to the area now known as Pietermaritzburg; he was killed by the Zulu king before he reached the settlement.

Italian prisoners of war were housed in Pietermaritzburg during World War II. They built a Catholic church that is now a heritage site.

The city’s demographics are diverse: Residents include the many European backgrounds from colonial history, but also people of South and Southeast Asian descent whose ancestors were enslaved by the early Dutch colonialists. The city has South Africa’s largest Indian South African population, many of whom are descendants of migrants from colonial India.  

Famous people have left their marks in Pietermaritzburg.

Mahatma Gandhi was forcibly removed from a first class train carriage there. That fueled the politicization of his passive resistance campaign.

In 1961 there, Nelson Mandela made his final speech before being locked up for 27 years. A monument marks the place of his arrest in a nearby town to the north.