Mthatha, originally Umtata, is a town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. It served as the capital of Transkei, a theoretically independent but unrecognised southern African country that was reincorporated into South Africa in 1994. The settlement is located on the Mthatha (“The Taker”) River (so named because of its disastrous floods) in the Kaffraria area near South Africa’s southeast coast, at an elevation of 2,290 feet (698 metres).
In 1869, the town was established as a European colony and served as a buffer zone between the warring Pondo and Tembu peoples. Later, a military garrison was erected there, and it was incorporated as a town in 1882. In 1903, it was designated as the headquarters of the Transkeian Territories General Council (known as the Bunga). In 1973, the town hosted a summit gathering of black homeland leaders who resolved to federate their own states after independence. When Transkei gained independence in 1976, Mthatha (as Umtata) became the province’s capital.
The principal economic activity in the region are subsistence agriculture and cattle husbandry; Mthatha also contains several secondary businesses that manufacture textiles, wood products, foodstuffs, and processed tobacco. The town features colonial-era structures, such as the Town Hall and a hospital. The Nelson Mandela Museum is located in Mthatha, as is Walter Sisulu University (2005), which was founded by the amalgamation of the University of Transkei, Border Technikon, and Eastern Cape Technikon. The town has road and rail links to East London to the south, as well as an airport. Population (2011): 137,589.