A little history
Johannesburg started off as a gold mining shanty town in 1886. So rich were the gold deposits that the shanty soon grew into a vibrant city – the fastest known city development. While the wealth was untold, the city unfortunately discriminated against the mainly black working poor, resulting in terrible living conditions.
These workers were eventually moved out of the city area, mainly from Sophiatown to Soweto, which led to a huge loss of black cultural history. The freed land was then used to further develop the city.
Mining was the bedrock of Johannesburg and the many splendid classical buildings and skyscrapers in the city are testament to the rise of the mining empires and supporting businesses. The shopping was amazing, and Eloff Street was the most expensive real estate in the country. The Rand Club was the place to meet and eat for the mining elite while the Guildhall Pub was for the working class.
As often happens with large cities, the commercial land in the city became very expensive, as did the good residential properties close to town.
Young executives started to buy their homes in the then less expensive Sandton area, and in time corporate head offices followed. Johannesburg went through a period of inner city decay, which was linked to crime. However, after the elections in 1994, plans started to re-generate an integrated city, and today the urban renewal is astounding. Billions have been spent by property developers and the Johannesburg Development Agency.
Now the city is a thriving business hub, and home to the trendy crowd, with many of the magnificent buildings converted to classy apartments on the upper floors and to restaurants, night spots and wonderful shops at ground level. The city, with its pedestrian boulevards is now relatively crime free and the population is cosmopolitan, enriching Jozi, as it is known, with a melting pot of culture.
Johannesburg played its part in the struggle history and there are excellent museums documenting the life and times of those involved. These include the Workers Museum in Newtown, Apartheid Museum in Mondeor, Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, Constitutional Hill and the Old Fort in Braamfontein, Hector Petersen Museum, Regina Mundi Church, Vilikazi Steet and Mandela House in Soweto.
Johannesburg is the administrative capital of Gauteng. It is part of the Johannesburg Metropole which has over 10 million people and includes Alexandra, Lenasia, Midrand, Randburg, Roodepoort, Sandton and Soweto, famous for its township tours.
Johannesburg is undoubtedly one of the world’s most diverse and vibrant cities. Jozi is the largest city in South Africa and is also one of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the world.
The inner city has six very different sectors, Joburg Town, the CBD still home to corporates and the main shopping area; Diagonal Street, Braamfontein to the north, home to Wits University, the Nelson Mandela Bridge and an office mecca; Newtown, close to the city is the cultural and musical heartbeat; Fordsburg to the west is home to the Asian quarters; The Fashion District to the east, incorporates Jewel City; Maboneng Precinct which is on the eastern edge, is the art sector and lastly Ellis Park, the famous rugby stadium, is surrounded by the still to be upgraded areas of Hillbrow, Berea, Doornfontein, Bertams and Troyville.
Enjoy a walk around the city, visiting all the special sights. There are public artworks and tranquil pedestrian boulevards, part of the urban renewal program.
Outside the inner city, to the north are the older suburbs. The suburbs closest to town boast the homes of many of the original mining magnates.
Further out, are the suburbs collectively called “The Parks” – so called because of the many trees that line the streets and because many of the names of these ‘villages’ start with the word ‘Park’ – Parkview, Parkhurst and Parktown.
Old houses in these suburbs have been tastefully renovated and the lifestyle revolves around the village shopping areas, which offer unique boutiques, deli’s, cafés, foodie markets, restaurants and art galleries, as an alternative to burgeoning shopping malls. Upmarket Rosebank and Hyde Park are shoppers delights offering top local and international labels in sophisticated surrounds.
To the south of the city, is Gold Reef City, an entertainment district set in a replica of early Johannesburg, complete with a gold mine tour, shops of that period, roller coaster rides, theatre and a casino.