Egoli, the city of gold, Jozi, Joeys, Joburg, South Africa’s largest city and the country’s economic heartbeat, Johannesburg, goes by many names. The traffic is diabolical and the city bursts with energy. Beneath the chaos, though, is a proud city that is unapologetically African. Once you get past the hustlers and the hooting taxis, visitors to the city will find a warm and welcoming atmosphere underpinned by some of South Africa’s friendliest people.
Cosmopolitan Joburg has more than enough to offer visitors seeking delicious and varied cuisine, culture and history. Joburg’s skyline is strewn with skyscrapers as the city is home to a number of Africa’s tallest buildings. Urban regeneration programmes are breathing new life to parts of the city that had been written off. Jozi’s story is one of growth and renewal.
To get down to the nuts and bolts of South African history, a trip to the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill is a must. For a sobering journey through the apartheid era, the Apartheid Museum on the corner of Northern Parkway and Gold Reef Road offers a dramatic glimpse into South Africa’s tumultuous history. The museum’s permanent exhibitions will walk you through the creation of the apartheid state, life under apartheid, the struggle for freedom and finally the new dispensation which called for equality for all. The account of these times is haunting if not brutal, but the museum is essentially a beacon of hope demonstrating how South Africa is coming to terms with its oppressive past and moving towards a future that all South Africans can call their own.
Having detained the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Mahatma Gandhi and thousands more people during its 100-year existence, Constitution Hill in the heart of Joburg is a living museum which charts South Africa’s journey to democracy. Its history dates back to 1893 when it was first a prison for white men then later a military fort. Additional sections were added in the early 1900s to include male black prisoners, a women’s jail and an awaiting trial block. In addition to the Old Fort, Women’s Jail and Number Four museums, the site is also home to the country’s Constitutional Court, which upholds the rights of all its citizens. Visitors are encouraged to explore its various museums to experience first-hand the country’s transition from colonialism and apartheid to democracy and freedom.
Caption: The Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill offer invaluable insights into South Africa’s troubled history and its bright future.
Arts & Culture
With a wide variety of places to explore, culture lovers will relish Joburg’s thriving art scene. Meaning ‘place of light’ in seSotho, Maboneng is a shining example of inner city regeneration. What was once a derelict neighbourhood is now an integrated arts and culture hub featuring a wide range of restaurants, cafes, art galleries, clothing boutiques and retail and studio space. Even renowned South African artist William Kentridge has his Centre for the Less Good Idea space there! The Arts on Main market which takes place every Sunday from 10am to 3pm is a great place to pick up some locally produced treasures whether art, clothing or local and international food. Don’t miss this for a relaxed Sunday afternoon vibe.
Part of the Wits University Cultural Precinct and not far from the Maboneng Precinct, the Wits Art Museum is an extraordinary monument featuring classical and contemporary art from South Africa, and also West and Central Africa. Frequented by students and an extension of the regenerated Braamfontein area, it’s also a meeting point for arts and culture enthusiasts. Plus, it has a great coffee shop for that caffeine fix and a hot or cold canteen-style lunch starting from as little as R30.
Caption: Joburg is one of the best places to witness and experience South Africa’s cultural heritage. From township art centres to artisanal markets, museums to art galleries, the city has more than enough to satisfy culture vultures.
No trip to Joburg would be complete without a tour of Soweto, a sprawling township created in the 1930s to segregate the growing population. The acronym for the name South West Townships, Soweto quickly became South Africa’s largest black city and served as a labour force for the then, and now, thriving Johannesburg. It was a hotbed of unrest during the apartheid years and it was here that the deadly Soweto uprising took place on 16 June 1976. The area has also produced several social, sport and political personalities including Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who both lived on the now famous Vilakazi Street.
As it continues to attract people from around South Africa and further afield, Soweto’s multicultural nature is astonishing. Though known primarily as an area for the working class, Soweto’s middle class continues to grow and many members of the black elite have made it home.
To fully experience what this area has to offer, especially as a first time visitor, it’s highly recommended that you arrange a guided tour (bus and bicycle tours are available). These often include a stop off at a shisa nyama where visitors can interact with locals and feast on traditional braaied meat, chakalaka, pap, salads and vegetables. Other attractions to visit in Soweto include the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, Mandela House on Vilakazi Street, Kliptown, the Orlando Towers, Soweto Theatre and the Regina Mundi Church.
Caption: Vilakazi Street in Soweto is the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize Winners. Visiting Soweto and discovering more of what makes it unique is a must.
Nightlife & shopping
If Joburg heaves during the day, it thumps at night! From trendy cocktail or rooftop bars in Sandton to township jazz spots in Maboneng to student haunts in Melville, there really is something for everyone in the City of Gold. But plan ahead ensuring you have a cab lined up or a designated driver to get you around.
If shopping is more your thing then Joburg will not disappoint. From glitzy Sandton City with the best of local and international brands to night markets, craft markets and, for the bargain hunters, the Oriental Plaza – shoppers are spoilt for choice. Rosebank Mall is another popular shopping spot offering countless choices under one roof. For a quirky alternative to the malls head to 27 Boxes. This shopping centre was built in a disused park and is made from shipping containers. From clothing to home décor you can find it all at 27 Boxes and most of what’s on offer is locally produced.
Caption: Joburg’s shopping and nightlife are unmatched, not just within South Africa but across the African continent.
Fun for the whole family
Museums, parks, theatre, amusement parks and more, there is no shortage of things to do with the whole family, most especially the kids, in Joburg. Located on an old gold mine, Gold Reef City is one of South Africa’s largest theme parks and visitors should prepare to be transported back to the gold rush era. For just R125, thrill seekers can look forward to 16 thrill rides, 14 dedicated kiddies’ rides, a Jump City trampoline park, an authentic underground mine, 12 dining options, seven retail stores and more. Another exhilarating place to visit in and around Joburg is Acrobranch in Melrose for an arm slinging treetop obstacle course. For fresh air and exercise, there are a host of outdoor activities available for families at places such as Zoo Lake, the Melville Koppies, Emmarentia Dam and the Walter Sisulu National Botanic Gardens.
Caption: There’s never a dull day in Joburg. It’s the ideal place to bring the kids along as there are many attractions catered to them.
Fun facts about Joburg
Built to relieve heavy traffic congestion between Joburg and Pretoria, the Gautrain is an 80-kilometre commuter rail system that links Johannesburg, Pretoria, Ekurhleni and OR Tambo International Airport. The construction of this modern transport network was the result of the biggest public-private partnership in Africa.
Joburg is one of the world’s biggest man-made forests with over 5 million trees growing in public parks and private gardens.
The movies District 9 and The Avengers: Age of Ultron were filmed in Johannesburg.
With approximately 3,200 beds, Soweto’s Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital is the largest in the southern hemisphere.
You can bungee jump off the Orlando Towers in Soweto.
Something for everyone
A window into South Africa’s history
An arts and culture hub
Shop or party till you drop