REVIEWING – even in brief – the good, bad and ugly of Nelson Mandela Bay will always spark a debate, and former Bay resident Hagen Engler caused a stir with his account titled “Ugly sister Port Elizabeth a cinderella at heart”.
Engler, a former journalist at The Herald, said in his column for the Mail & Guardian that “people in general have been leaving PE for ages” following the recent announcement that photographer and musician Tim Hopwood would be leaving the Bay for greener pastures.
He said the feedback on the article, which was inspired by his “love for PE”, had been mixed. “I’m from PE and I was trying to shed light on the psychology of people who leave the city.
“There was a bit of an uproar on Facebook, and people are entitled to their opinions, but I think perhaps some aspects of it were taken out of context. But it was written sincerely. Ultimately, Port Elizabeth is a great place,” he said.
Hopwood agreed with Engler’s sentiments that “people in general have been leaving PE for ages”, and another participant in the story, journalist and PR specialist Amy Shelver, said although people did leave Port Elizabeth, it was “not necessarily a bad thing”.
“I think what Hagen was trying to say is that some of the best talent in the bigger centres are from Port Elizabeth and there’s really nothing wrong with that.
“Some people are trail-blazers and they will go forth. Some others won’t. I think it offers a greater opportunity for those who do stay in Port Elizabeth for collaborations with people in other cities,” she said.
Engler himself left the city and moved to Johannesburg some years ago to edit men’s lifestyle magazine FHM – an opportunity he said would not have arisen had he stayed in Port Elizabeth.
“It’s what happens a lot and it is a personal decision during the course of someone’s career. It’s up to the individual really and I was there myself for some time. I was trying to make a go of becoming a journalist and I faced a similar decision.
“The point that I try to make is that you either leave PE and come back, or you stay and never get around to leaving, or leave – and like many people – dream of going back. I also wrote a lot of good things about the place,” he said.
Engler also interviewed other Port Elizabeth-born or -based stars, including Bay TV presenter Ncedo Marele and homegrown international supermodel Shashi Naidoo. He also highlighted several positive aspects of the city, saying: “PE’s role as talent incubator is powerful. Once it gets under your skin, even its ugliness is beautiful.”
A former Port Elizabeth resident, musician Nangamso Epic Mtyingizane, said he had left the city purely for musical reasons, as there was no major music corporation based in Nelson Mandela Bay.
“I left because I realised we have no major cooperatives to endorse the music and we don’t have a media hub as huge or influential as in Joburg.
“I’m with the family in Grahamstown, and I love the Eastern Cape, but I’ll have to go back to Joburg because as much as I love this province, it’s very limiting in terms of art. You could beat around the same bush for years, constantly hitting a brick wall! I miss the intimacy about it though. It just feels like home [because] in Joburg everyone is just fighting to get ahead,” he said.
Another former Nelson Mandela Bay resident, chef Khanya Mzongwana, said although she had learnt a lot from doing business in Port Elizabeth, she would not consider returning to the city.
“The lack of money in PE wasn’t doing me any good, and being in the food industry, PE was the last place my brand was going to strive. I got what I needed from PE. It was just time to move on. PE has a really slow and easygoing pace,” she said.
“In PE it’s really easy to become sort of a hero for doing something otherwise considered really ordinary in the ‘Burg [Johannesburg].
“Don’t get me wrong, PE geared me up big time for my journey. Everything I learned about people, about love, life, family, values and so forth I learned in PE. I learnt hospitality back home and caring what happens to others.
“Here in JHB there’s not a lot of that. PE taught me about friendship as well, and more importantly, how to cook! It was good training ground for me to experience the ups and downs of owning and running a business and its day-to-day challenges.”