The capital of South Africa's smallest province, Gauteng,
Johannesburg is the economic powerhouse of Africa with its
ever-growing suburban sprawl creeping outwards from the central
city skyscrapers and ring-road motorways.
The more than 10-million inhabitants live fast and have a
restless spirit, which they have imparted into the fabric of the
city, also known by its African name as Egoli, 'the place of gold'.
The development of the city, which is just over a century old, has
followed the fortunes of the Witwatersrand (White Water Reef), the
rich gold-bearing rock reef that stretches across this area of
central South Africa. The initial gold rush started in the 1880s,
and barely ten years later Johannesburg had become South Africa's
largest town and the site of frenzied development that has been
ongoing ever since.
Johannesburg today is a city of contrasts, with glass-paned
modern luxury high-rises towering beside a few remaining
dilapidated Victorian buildings, and affluent northern suburbs with
stunning private homes behind high fences giving way to the squalid
streets and tiny shoebox houses of the massive Soweto township in
the south. The chasm between rich and poor in the city has given
rise to a high crime rate, evidenced by the fortress-like security
that pervades the wealthier suburbs.
Most visitors to South Africa, particularly those intent on
exploring the game reserves of Mpumalanga, arrive at Johannesburg's
busy OR Tambo International Airport, which is the main point of
entry for the country. There is little in Johannesburg itself to
grab the attention of tourists, but a few days can be filled taking
in some entertaining man-made attractions before heading off to the
game parks of the northeast or the coastal regions. The most
interesting diversion in Johannesburg is undoubtedly a 'Heritage
Route' or 'Shebeen Crawl' tour of Soweto, but take care only to
venture into the maze of the township with an organised tour or