Johannesburg

Photo by Clodagh Da Paixao on Unsplash

Short history

Johannesburg, often referred to as Jozi or Joburg, was founded in 1886, following the discovery of gold, marking the start of a rapid population increase as fortune-seekers flocked to the area. The first settlers in Johannesburg were predominantly of European descent, particularly those from the Dutch and British colonies, alongside a significant number of individuals from other parts of Africa, drawn by the promise of wealth. The Witwatersrand gold rush was instrumental in the city’s development, transforming it into a primary center for the international mineral trade. 

In the heart of the apartheid era, it became a central point for political activism and resistance, with numerous anti-apartheid movements and leaders, including Nelson Mandela, orchestrating significant portions of their operations within its boundaries. The city witnessed the 1976 Soweto Uprising, a critical event where thousands of black students protested against the compulsory use of Afrikaans in schools, an event that spotlighted the brutalities of the apartheid regime to the world. Fast forward to the 21st century, Johannesburg has transitioned into a symbol of democracy and transformation, hosting major international forums and conferences dedicated to social justice and urban renewal. 

Geography

Johannesburg is located at the heart of Gauteng Province, in northeastern section of South Africa. Positioned in the mineral-rich Witwatersrand hills, the city’s relief features a series of hills and valleys.

The climate in Johannesburg is characterized by its hot summers and cool, dry winters, a pattern influenced by its elevation and inland position. January marks the peak of summer, bringing with it hot temperatures and frequent afternoon thunderstorms. Conversely, the winter months, particularly June and July, are noted for their clear, sunny days but cold nights, establishing them as the coldest periods in Johannesburg.

Urban layout in Johannesburg is noteworthy for its blend of densely populated areas with sprawling suburbs and green spaces, reflecting the city’s ongoing efforts towards revitalization and sustainability. 

Population

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, with a population exceeding 4.8 million people. The city’s demographic composition is characterized by heterogeneity, with black Africans constituting the majority. Additionally, the city is home to substantial communities of White, Coloured, and Asian (primarily Indian) residents.

This diversity is mirrored in the religious beliefs of its residents, which include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and traditional African religions, underscoring the city’s pluralistic society.

Linguistically, Johannesburg is just as diverse. While English is widely spoken, facilitating communication and business across the city, numerous other languages are spoken. These include Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, and Afrikaans.

Main sights

  • Apartheid Museum: An essential visit for anyone wanting to understand South Africa’s history, the Apartheid Museum comprehensively documents the apartheid system, its impacts, and the journey towards democracy.
  • Gold Reef City: Located on an old gold mine which closed in 1971, Gold Reef City is a large amusement park providing rides, shows, and tours that depict Johannesburg’s gold mining history.
  • Constitution Hill: A former prison complex turned museum, it tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. The Constitutional Court, located here, is a symbol of freedom and houses an impressive art collection.
  • Soweto & the Mandela House: Soweto, an urban settlement, or ‘township’, is synonymous with the struggle for equality. Nelson Mandela’s former home, now a museum, provides deep insights into his life and the fight against apartheid.
  • Johannesburg Botanical Garden: The Johannesburg Botanical Garden encompasses a variety of themed gardens, and Emmarentia Dam, a popular spot for picnics and water sports.
  • Maboneng Precinct: Maboneng is a community filled with artists’ studios, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, reflecting Johannesburg’s modern cultural renaissance.

Food

  • Bunny Chow: Originating from the Indian community, this dish consists of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with spicy curry.
  • Chakalaka & Pap: A spicy vegetable relish served with pap, a smooth maize meal. This combination is a South African classic that accompanies many meals.
  • Boerewors: A traditional South African sausage, typically grilled over an open flame at a braai (South African barbecue). It’s a flavorful blend of spices and meats.
  • Biltong: Similar to jerky, this dried, cured meat snack is a favorite among South Africans. It comes in various flavors and meats, including beef and game.
  • Amarula Don Pedro: A dessert cocktail made with Amarula, a creamy liqueur from the fruit of the African marula tree, blended with ice cream.
  • Mogodu: A typical South African dish, mogodu is a stew made from tripe, often enjoyed during the colder months. It’s rich in flavor and often served with pap or bread.

Fun facts

  • Johannesburg is not only the largest city in South Africa by population, but it is also known as the lightning capital of the world due to its high lightning strike rate.
  • Despite its inland location, Johannesburg is the world’s largest city not situated on a river, lake, or coastline.
  • The city is home to the world’s deepest mine, the Mponeng Gold Mine, which extends 4 kilometers into the earth.
  • Johannesburg is one of the few major cities worldwide to have a forest within its boundary, owing to its over 10 million trees, making it the world’s largest man-made urban forest.
  • It played an important role in history as the site of the first televised live transatlantic bank robbery in 1978.
  • Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum, opened in 2001, stands as a reminder of the struggles against apartheid, attracting people from around the globe to learn about this period in South Africa’s history.