Johannesburg, also sometimes referred to as “Egoli”, (Zulu for “Place of Gold”) is perched on the 80 km long ridge called the Witwatersrand. It is a cosmopolitan city, home to all the diverse groupings that constitute the South African people. It is also the largest city in South Africa, the third largest in Africa, the fourth-fastest growing city in the world and the financial nerve centre of South Africa.
Mine dumps and skyscrapers etch the horizon, depicting its growth from a humble gold mining camp to the bustling cosmopolitan city it is today. The mine dumps are at present being reworked, using modern techniques to retrieve the trace minerals that were not extracted during earlier mining operations.
Johannesburg is named after the two people who were mainly responsible for its establishment. Johannes Joubert, who was Head of the Mines Department, was sent to investigate the gold resources of the area and Johannes Rissik was the surveyor-general who was responsible for choosing the site on which the mining town would be built. “Burg” is an Afrikaans word that means “town”. If South Africa is a “World in One Country”, then Johannesburg is a “Country in One City”. Nowhere else have the people been able to come together and form such an interactive culture, combining traits from each group and creating their own identity. The streets are alive with the call of fruit sellers and street vendors and the city presents an exciting blend of ethnic and Western art and cultural activities in the many theatres and open-air arenas.
Crime has unfortunately become a cross that the city has to bear, but projects are in progress to solve this problem. The inner city is one of the main problem areas and visitors are advised to adhere to basic safety precautions when they enter this area.
Johannesburg has the world’s third largest number of art deco buildings (after New York and Miami) and has launched a concerted effort to preserve this heritage. The “Ou Kaaphuis” (Old Cape House) in Pretoria Avenue, a “little Cape away from the Cape” is furnished with authentic antique furniture relevant to the Cape Dutch period. Near the corner of Market and Nugget Street lies a beautiful 71-year old Indian mosque. The mosque is a refreshing alternative to modern architectural styles.
A night out on the town in Johannesburg presents many opportunities. Some of the possibilities include excellent jazz music, night clubbing, gambling, music concerts or a visit to one of the many theatres. There are 15 theatres and many more nightclubs and music spots in Johannesburg. The easiest way to find up-to-date entertainment information is to look in the local press.
The Newtown Cultural Precinct extends over Pim, Goch, Bezuidenhout and President Streets and is one of Johannesburg’s most successful urban reclamation projects. A number of warehouses and buildings have been renovated to house a microcosm of South African culture. Chinatown, the Oriental Plaza and Diagonal Street offer a shopping and entertainment experience to visitors of all creeds and tastes. The warehouses have been transformed to house several theme museums. Museum Africa exhibits the history of life in South Africa and includes different museums. The Artist’s Proof Studio includes several print shops that gives community print workshops. On Saturdays, the square becomes the Johannesburg Market. Less energetic visitors can sit and enjoy a pint of beer at the South African Breweries (SAB) Centenary Centre while they are introduced to the history of beer making. Beers of different international brands may be sampled. Some basic security measures (lock car door, hide valuables in boot, lock car) are advised when visiting this sector. However, do not miss out on this experience.
The Market Theatre Precinct is a popular gathering place for locals and visitors alike. It is an internationally renowned theatre complex and developed on the site of the former Indian Produce Market. The former run-down Edwardian Market Hall was saved from demolition by a dedicated group of actors who put all their money together. Today, the Theatre continues to play a large role in developing and encouraging local talent. The complex includes the French Cultural Institute, the Foundation for Creative Arts, the Newtown Art Gallery, the Yard of Ale where refreshments are served and the Gramadoelas Restaurant where traditional South African food can be enjoyed.
Kippie’s, in the Market complex, is named after the legendary jazz saxophonist, Kippie Morolong Moeketsi. It is the top live jazz venue in South Africa, keeping crowds going until late into the night. The weekend flea market is an added attraction.
The Civic Theatre may be described as a more conventional venue than the Market Theatre. It regularly hosts productions of ballet, children’s theatre, drama and musicals. The complex offers three smaller venues but the main theatre is one of the most technologically advanced in the country. Visitors love the tour of the backstage facilities.
Gold Reef City is a theme park to the west of Johannesburg where Crown Mines used to be. Crown Mines used to be the richest goldmine in the world until it closed down in 1975. The City was built as an entertainment complex and is essentially a reconstruction of Johannesburg during the gold-rush era.
Museum Africa at the corner of Bree & Wolhuter Streets in Newtown, depicts the story of life in South Africa from the Stone Age to the nuclear age and beyond, from the Big Bang to the Silicon Chip. Up-to-date information on subjects such as geology, archaeology, anthropology and history have been combined to design exhibitions of startling reality, bringing the visitor face-to-face with the realities of the past and the dreams for the future. MuseumAfrica is a large complex and includes the Bensusan Museum of Photography, the Museum of Southern African Rock Art, the Geological Museum and the Worker’s Museum. The complex is located next to the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. The focus, as the name implies, is on the people of Africa, where they come from and who they are. The Bensusan Museum covers the interesting subject of photographic development throughout the century. It is definitely more than only a selection of old cameras. “Alhazen’s Light House” has a very effective way of explaining the properties of light, shadow and colour. The Geological Museum covers the many geological formations and types found in South Africa as well as the history of gold mining. The Worker’s Museum pays tribute to the Working Man and is housed in the restored Electricity Department compound where the workers used to live. There is also a Worker’s Library.
Guild Hall, on the corner of Harrison and Market Street, is the oldest pub in Johannesburg, reminiscent of the gold rush days of yesteryear.
The Adler Museum of the History of Medicine in Hillbrow pays tribute to the history of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy in South Africa. One of the most recent additions is an African Herbalist Shop that sells many of the traditional African herbal remedies. The Adler Museum of the History of Music offers a collection of valuable musical works and instruments and for the music lover it is well worth a visit.
The South African National Military History Museum is set in the peaceful suburban surroundings of Saxonwold, one of Johannesburg’s most distinguished suburbs. It has an internationally recognized collection of aircraft, tanks, uniforms, medals, guns and military art that covers every period of conflict in the South African history. To mark the centenary of the start of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, special exhibitions are being staged in 1999 and 2000.
First National Bank is one of the oldest financial institutions in South Africa. The First National Bank Museum is in Market Street and focuses on the history of moneymaking and on the bank’s history.
The University of the Witwatersrand (“Wits”) in Jorissen Street was originally established in Kimberley and moved to the Witwatersrand in the 1920s. This university was often in the news during the political upheavals in our recent history. Wits is a virtual treasury of historical venues that include the African Art Museum, the Anthropology Museum, the Geology Museum, the Herbarium, the Music Museum, the Palaeontology Museum, the Planetarium, the Zoology Museum and the Medicine Museum. The Zoology Museum offers a large collection of butterflies, moths and shells. The Rock Art Research Centre is located in the Van Riet Lowe Building for Archaeology and Palaeontology. Visits to the centres and museums are strictly by appointment only.
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the largest and most active stock exchange on the African continent is housed in an elegant glass and brick building in town. More than 60 foreign banks operate from here. Visitors can tour the building and watch the frenzied activity on the trading floor as fortunes are made and lost in the blink of an eye.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offers free tours that allow visitors to examine some of the world’s most technologically advanced television studios. Booking is essential.
The Erikson Diamond Centre, Jewel City and Mynhardts invite visitors to learn how diamonds are cut. The history of diamonds in South Africa is covered and visitors can see how jewellery is designed, set and manufactured. Last but not least, jewellery can be bought at very reasonable prices. For a sandpit with a difference, come to the Gemstone Scratch Patch in Salvia Road, Kyalami, where one has the opportunity to dig for 24 types of semiprecious stones in a sandpit.