Johannesburg is a modern city of many faces and names. It is also known by its Zulu name, eGoli (“place of gold”), due to the fact that 40 percent of the world’s known gold reserves have been found in the area and many Zulu men went to work on the gold mines.
The city is also known as Jozi, Jo’burg, and Joeys, and abbreviated as JHB. It is the largest city in South Africa although it is not one of the three capitals. It is, however, the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa.
Jo’urg is a thriving metropolis, including high-rise buildings and elaborate shopping malls.
It ranges from the millionaire homes in Houghton to the slums of Hillbrow, from well-manicured and protected suburbia to squalid dystopia.
The city and suburbs are surrounded by mine-dumps from the many gold mines that have operated in the area.
There have been attempts in recent years to beautify these “mountains” of dirt by planting ground cover and indigenous plants.
A few decades ago, a new city arose on the outskirts of Johannesburg, populated mostly by native African workers from the gold mining industry.
Its name, Soweto, was originally an acronym for “South Western Townships”. Soweto is now incorporated into the larger city of Johannesburg.
The exquisitely decorated Orland Towers, originally the cooling towers for a now closed coal-fired power station, tower over the Sowetan landscape. These are the site of the world’s first bungee jump between cooling towers.
Unlike many major cities in the world, nature is never far away from Jo’burg, and the city is renowned for its many natural treasures. 18,500 hectares of open space includes 22 nature reserves and 15 bird sanctuaries.
On the West Rand, a large region of urban development, you can visit the Cradle of Humankind, where some of the oldest pre-human fossils in the world have been found.
Close by are the Sterkfontein and Wonder caves, and within a 60-minute radius of the city you can visit a variety of wildlife attractions, including the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.
The Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden near to Krugersdorp, where we lived for over 13 years, includes some of the only pairs of breeding eagles in an urban environment anywhere in the world. (Photo shows me with two writing friends: Ruth Dell and Marion Ueckermann.)
Both the Emmarentia Dam and the Zoo Lake are on doorstep of the central city.
On the West Rand you may travel along the
Magalies Meander and the Crocodile Ramble, some of the best arts and crafts routes in South Africa where artists exhibit and sell their works. Tea-gardens, accommodation, and outdoor adventure activities make this a great way to experience life in the big city.
It is possible to view Jo’burg as a thriving and exciting city and ignore the tremendous needs of society buried beneath the debris of shacks and poverty. But like many large cities, Johannesburg has a huge population that lives way below the bread line.
As a result of both the poverty and the large number of illegal immigrants who cross the border in search of work, the crime rate in the city and suburbs is high, and visitors are cautioned to take extreme care.
Hold on to hand luggage, don’t get into vehicles where you don’t know the drivers, and don’t walk the streets at night.
Provided you take care, Johannesburg can be one of the highlights of your stay in South Africa.
It has the most wonderful climate, with very cold but dry and sunny winters.
Because of the heavy mining dust in the sky, Jo’burg often has incredible red sunsets.