Today, Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi, Joeys, or Egoli (City of Gold), with one of the best climates of any city in the world, and a population of nearly 4.5-million people, is the largest city in South Africa, and the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa.
Johannesburg is a city with an incredible history and legacy. The settlement sprang up in 1886 when prospectors found gold in the area now known as the Witwatersrand. When the discovery became public, thousands flocked here in search of fortune and new opportunities. Today, Johannesburg still attracts those who want to realise their dreams and achieve success. The new city was named after two officials of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR); Johannes Meyer a and Johannes Rissik.
Johannesburg grew rapidly and quickly transformed from a small settlement into a full-fledged city. It seemed like nothing could stop its growth, not even the Anglo-Boer war. In those tumultuous times, and beyond, Johannesburg has always been recognised as the golden beating heart of South Africa.
Through the years, Johannesburg has been the site of many iconic events. It was where the Springboks beat the All Blacks to take the Rugby World Cup in 1995, and, most recently, it was where South Africa showed the world that we can host an event as large as the FIFA Soccer World Cup with style and grace.
When Australian digger George Harrison first struck gold on the Witwatersrand reef in 1886, he could little have imagined that he was in at the birth of what would become the financial, economic and industrial hub of Africa and a world-class African city. In 13 decades Johannesburg has gone from tents to towers, shanties to skyscrapers, muddy tracks to municipalities, almost treeless high-altitude grasslands to one of the biggest urban forests in the world.
Once brash and raw, like most frontier towns, Johannesburg has over the years transformed itself into a sleek, modern city without sacrificing any of its high energy or historic past. In 2015, it was rated as one of the best cities in Africa, economically, according to the rating agency, Fitch. Another rating agency, Moody’s, also increased their ratings of Johannesburg in the same year. South of Johannesburg lies Soweto, the most populous urban residential area in the country, with a population of more than a million.
Gracious old colonial buildings like the Rand Club, original post offices, old police stations, historical hotels, farmhouses and shops rub shoulders with the Carlton Centre (still Africa’s tallest building at 50 storeys), glitzy shopping malls, five-star hotels, major highways, classy restaurants, award-winning museums, art galleries, lovely parks and newer historical landmarks.
And because it’s such a diverse and cosmopolitan city – a magnet of opportunity for peoples from all over the world, especially other parts of Africa – as you go from one part to another, you’ll find yourself travelling from posh upmarket suburbs like Sandton and Rosebank, to mini villages like downtown Fordsburg that is a melting pot of different global cultures; and from Chinatown to traditionally Indian areas, from bustling local markets to a revitalised, culturally stimulating inner city.
Jozi is a young city, exhilarating, sometimes exhausting, but always exciting. Spend a few hours, a day, a week – you’ll never run out of things to see and do. The Gautrain from OR Tambo International Airport, Sandton, Rosebank or Pretoria will whisk you downtown to Park Station in no time, where you can board the double-decker red City Sightseeing bus. Hop on and hop off at any of about a dozen stops, or just stay aloft and watch this vibrant city roll past.
If you fancy some history, then take the add-on tour to Soweto and visit the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Nelson Mandela and Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, once lived. If you need a bit of physical exercise then tour Soweto on foot or by bike with registered guides, or if you’re an adrenalin junkie then bungee jump from Soweto’s iconic Orlando Towers.
Need something less adventurous? Then what about a stroll through the lovely Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, where black eagles nest; or a hike along a heritage trail through historic Westcliff.
If you’re a culture buff visit the Johannesburg Art Gallery, WAM (Wits Art Museum) in Braamfontein – which holds one of the world’s finest collections of African art, including African beadwork – or any one of the private art galleries along Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank. If you’re at all interested in our history as humans (and who isn’t?) spend time at the University of the Witwatersrand’s user-friendly and fascinating Origins Centre; or if you want to look beyond our universe, try the Johannesburg Planetarium.
If it’s relaxation you’re after, the city has plenty of lovely spas, and for entertainment, there are casinos, theatres, cinemas, and a Disney-like theme park, Gold Reef City, where you can take an underground mine tour, watch street performances, and hurtle along on roller coasters.
If you’ve no time to go to the Lion Park just outside the city, then a trip to the Johannesburg Zoo, one of the world’s finest small zoos set in 55ha of gardens and water features, is well worth a visit. If you don’t feel like walking, then take a golf cart.
Talking of golf, Joburg is home to dozens of excellent golf courses, where you can hire clubs and use facilities.
If you’re in town on a Sunday morning then take yourself off to Kyalami, where the only other school of performing Lipizzaner stallions in the world (other than Vienna) puts on a dazzling display of equine elegance with their all-female riders.
The city is also always event-full. Whether it’s a visiting pop superstar, a mega wedding show, a garden and home exhibition, an outdoor and travel expo, a retail or mining one, an African cities conference, a London or Broadway theatre hit, a food festival, or a big sports event (think soccer, rugby and cricket), there’s& always something happening.
But Johannesburg is not only about leisure, entertainment, events and sport – it’s also the business hub of Africa, its economic heart, and home to hundreds of international and local companies hosting regular conferences at superb venues with state-of-the-art facilities. All major hotels have business centres and you’ll find Wi-Fi access almost everywhere. There are also dozens of restaurants and cafés for that power lunch or breakfast.
All major gold and diamond mining houses have their headquarters in Johannesburg, the biggest being Anglo American and De Beers. The new Auckland Park-based Mining Precinct, in Johannesburg, was launched in November 2016. It aims to safeguard the future of South Africa’s mining industry by developing new people-centred technology and techniques to empower mines and prepare them for modern mining methods. The Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market remains the biggest outlet, followed by the Tshwane, Cape Town and Durban markets.
Cape Town may have the mountains and the wine farms, but there’s no doubt about it – Johannesburg has the edge for energy and excitement.
NEIGHBOURHOODS IN JOHANNESBURG