Having crossed over the Drakensberg Mountain range into Zulu territory on their Great Trek from British dominion in the Cape Colony, Boer settlers earmarked this site as their capital-to-be, and in 1838 laid the foundation of a neat grid of streets and lanes of Pietermaritzburg. Rival British expansionists were a safe distance away at Port Natal-Durban and the surrounding tribes were predominantly scatterlings the result of King Shaka's empire-building exploits who posed no threat. It was from this fledgeling settlement that Pieter Retief embarked on his ill-fated journey to negotiate for land with Shaka's co-assassin and heir, King Dingane. The Boer leaders martyrdom gave Pietermaritzburg the first half of its name Gert Maritz being the head of a second wave of Voortrekkers.
Within five years of establishing Pietermaritzburg, however, the Boers succumbed to British military might and vacated the area leaving their carefully-laid foundations to be stamped with a world-renowned legacy of Edwardian and Victorian architecture.
Pietermaritzburg remained capital of Natal province until the arrival of our non-racial democracy and the emergence of KwaZulu-Natal, where for a while it shared its status with Ulundi. However, Pietermaritzburg, recently 'regained' its status not as the capital of Natal, but the whole province of KwaZulu-Natal.
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