The district lies at the heart of the Eastern Cape Province and is presently home to about 1.7 million people. The economy of the district is dominated by Buffalo City, which comprises the coastal city of East London, historical King William’s Town, and the provincial administrative capital of Bhisho.Buffalo City accounts for 42% of the district’s population, 83% of the district’s economic output, and 72% of the district’s formal employment. The city is clearly important to the growth and development fortunes of the district and critical to realising an integrated district growth and development agenda.

Sectors that provide formal employment in the district are public services (75,000 jobs), manufacturing (27,000 jobs), trade (25,000 jobs) and agriculture (17,000 jobs). Over the last few years the economic growth of the district has been slightly slower than the national average.Two-thirds of the district previously fell under the two former homelands of Transkei and Ciskei. This is where basic services backlogs, such as domestic water, sanitation, mud schools, poor access roads and unavailable electricity, are most acute. There is evidence that poverty has been increasing in the district over the last few years, although there have been some gains in the Human Development Index.

East London Industrial Zone
East London Industrial Zone

The district HIV-prevalence rate is similar to the provincial rate. The problem of informal dwellings (shacks) is most acute in Buffalo City, due to inward migration from the hinterland.The overwhelming dominance of Buffalo City in the district economy points to the importance of strengthening the city’s growth.Efforts to upgrade East London’s harbour are critical with regard to the future competitiveness of the manufacturing industry (private enterprises and co-operatives). AsgiSA initiatives around, for example, biofuels, forestry and BPO (call centres) also hold promise for the district.

The tourism sector
is already showing good (more than average) growth, linked to the various attractions: Wild Coast and Sunshine Coast, mountains and small towns, the rich heritage of frontier wars, crucibles of struggle against apartheid; and the close proximity of all these attractions to each other (a tourism cluster)