The region surrounding Johannesburg has been inhabited for millions of years. One of the oldest human skeletons ever found was discovered in a cave in Sterkfontein, to the northwest of Johannesburg in 1998. The skeleton, nicknamed Mrs Ples, is one of the few examples of Australopithecus africanus ever found, and is believed to be approximately 3.5 million years old.
Johannesburg, to all intents and purposes the economic capital of South Africa and indeed even sub-Saharan Africa, arose from a dusty and underdeveloped mining town to become a metropolis attracting scores of immigrants from northern african countries to find work in the city colloqually known as eGoli, the City of Gold.
The city is straddled in the middle of South Africa, no harbour or seafrontage to provide wealth, as is the case with other major metropolitan centres in the country, Durban or Cape Town. That Johannesburg became what it is today is testament to the gold rush in the region towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Having initially discovered gold in the nearby Eastern regions of Barberton and the area now known as Pilgrims Rest in the 1880's, prospectors soon discovered that even richer pickings were to be had on the Witwatersrand region which now incorporates Johannesburg and the Vaal Triangle.
The town was initially much the same as any small prospecting settlement, but as word spread, people flocked to the area from all other regions of the country as well as from North America, the UK and Europe. As the value of control of the land increased, tensions developed between the Afrikaaners, who controlled the region during the nineteenth century and the English, culminating in the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The Boers lost the war and control of this province, known as Transvaal, to the English.
When the British declared South Africa a Union in 1910, this paved the way for a more organised mining structure. The South African government instituted a harsh racial system whereby blacks and indians were heavily taxed, barred from holding skilled jobs and consequently forced to work as migrant labour on Johannesburg's growing crop of goldmines.
The regulations of apartheid were abandoned in February 1990, and since the 1994 elections, Johannesburg has, in theory, been free of discriminatory laws. The black townships have been integrated into the municipal government system, and to some extent, the suburbs have become multiracial.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE:
Johannesburg is located in the eastern plateau area of South Africa, known as the Highveld, at an elevation of 1753 metres. The city enjoys a dry, sunny climate with the exception of occasional late afternoon downpours from the months of October to April.
Temperatures in Johannesburg are usually fairly mild, with the average maximum daytime temperature in summer of around 27°C, dropping to an average maximum of around 20°C in winter. During the winter, the temperature occasionally drops to below freezing, causing frost. The annual average rainfall is 600 mm to 800 mm, which is mostly concentrated in the summer months.
Johannesburg's relatively dry climate has not stopped local residents and the city council from planting an abundance of trees, and the city prides itself on having the most planted trees of any city, or about six million, which has created a forest-like appearance, especially in the lush northern suburbs.
The different suburbs of Johannesburg are generally categorised by compass direction, as different areas of the city have greatly different personalities. Since Johannesburg is such a large city, there is great variety in the suburbs that comprise it. While the Central Business District and the surrounding areas were formerly highly desired wealthy areas, they have lost their former reputation after migrants took over abandoned buildings, and the crime level rose accordingly. The suburbs to the south of the city are mainly lower-class residential suburbs along with some townships, although most suburbs in the South tend to be extremely large and undistinguished.
The northern and northwestern suburbs have become the centre for the wealthy, containing the high-end retail shops as well as several upper-class residential areas including Houghton, where Nelson Mandela makes his home. The northwestern area in particular is vibrant and lively, with the mostly-black suburb of Sophiatown a hotbed of political activity and the Bohemian-flavoured Melville featuring lively gathering places and nightlife. Auckland Park is home to the headquarters of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the University of Johannesburg.
To the southwest of the City Centre is Soweto, a mostly black urban area constructed during the apartheid regime specifically for housing African people who were then living in areas designated by the government for white settlement.
Johannesburg is a transit point for connecting flights to Cape Town, Durban, and the Kruger National Park, hosts touristic attractions in and around the city, and is geographically close to rural game lodges and similar tourist attractions. Consequently, most international visitors to South Africa pass through Johannesburg at least once, which has led to the development of more attractions for tourists. Recent additions have centred around history museums, such as the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum. Gold Reef City, a large amusement park to the south of the Central Business District, is also a large draw for tourists in the city. The Johannesburg Zoo is also one of the largest in South Africa.
Because Johannesburg is the economic and business hub of South Africa, it remains quite tourist friendly aside from issues such as crime. It features a variety of world-class hotels, shops, malls, restaurants and casinos, as well as safe drinking water, adequately maintained roads and infrastructure on par with other major global cities. English is spoken everywhere as a primary language.
The city also has several art museums, such as the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which features South African and European landscape and figurative paintings. The Museum Africa covers the history of the city of Johannesburg, as well as housing a large collection of rock art. The Market Theatre complex attained notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s by staging anti-apartheid plays, and has now become a centre for modern South African playwriting.
There is also a large industry around visiting former townships, such as Soweto and Alexandra. Most visitors to Soweto go to see the Mandela Museum, which is located in the former home of Nelson Mandela.
The Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is 25 kilometres to the northwest of the city. The Sterkfontein fossil site is famous for being the world's richest hominid site and produced the first adult Australopithecus africanus and the first near-complete skeleton of an early Australopithecine.