Johannesburg is the economic powerhouse of Africa, existing as the capital of Gauteng, South Africa's smallest province. Its ever-growing suburban sprawl creeps outwards from the central city skyscrapers and ring-road motorways. Its nearly 10,000,000 inhabitants live fast-paced lives and have a restless spirit, which they have imparted into the fabric of the city.
Wits University Campus, Johannesburg © Samuella99
The development of the city has followed the fortunes of the Witwatersrand (White Water Reef), the rich gold-bearing rock reef that stretches across this area of central South Africa. The initial gold rush started in the 1880s and, barely ten years later, Johannesburg had become South Africa's largest town and the site of continuous development.
Johannesburg today is a city of contrasts, with luxury high-rises towering beside a few remaining dilapidated Victorian buildings. Large private homes behind high fences sit in the northern suburbs while the massive Soweto township in the south has its own unique flavour and charm. The chasm between rich and poor in the city has given rise to a high crime rate, evidenced by the fortress-like security that pervades the wealthier suburbs.
Most visitors to South Africa, particularly those intent on exploring the game reserves of Mpumalanga, arrive at Johannesburg's busy OR Tambo International Airport. The airport is the main point of entry for the country. Johannesburg itself is not traditionally seen as a tourist destination but the fast-paced metropolis is increasing in popularity with foreign visitors. A few days can be pleasantly filled taking in some entertaining attractions before heading off to the game parks of the northeast or the coastal regions. Possibly the most interesting diversion in Johannesburg is a 'Heritage Route' or 'Shebeen Crawl' tour of Soweto, though visitors should take care only to venture into the maze of the township with an organised tour or professional guide.