Published on Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jo'burg: Gauteng's gold nugget

Although South Africa's the smallest province, Gauteng is the most industrialised and densely populated. The name of the province means "place of gold", and the metal accounts for its concentration of wealth and its 40% contribution to the country's GDP.

Gold is the reason for Johannesburg's establishment, and the city is defined by its exploitation - although fast disappearing, the southern section of the city is littered with large mine dumps and scattered headgear. Main Street in downtown Joburg is lined with mining houses, with street furniture consisting of headgear, coco pans and other mining artefacts.

An earlier mine, shaft 14, now incorporated into the theme park, Gold Reef City, offers trips 226m below ground. On the same site is the Apartheid Museum, a powerful place commemorating and recording the country's appalling history of racial discrimination.

Further south is the iconic township Soweto. Here the unravelling of apartheid began in 1976, with schoolchildren rebelling against apartheid education, and losing their lives along the way. June 16, 1976 has been memorialised in the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial, remembering the death of Hector Pieterson, who was the first child to die on the day, becoming the symbol of repression and police brutality.

The township was home to Nelson and Winnie Mandela; their home is now a museum. Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a home in the same street. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela still lives in the township.

Tours of the township take in the Kliptown Square, where the Freedom Charter was ratified in 1955, shebeens and indigenous restaurants, and the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the biggest in southern Africa.

The Constitutional Court has found a home in the city, on the site of a set of jails, the place of incarceration of two of the 20th century's icons, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and many thousands of apartheid petty offenders.

Johannesburg is a cosmopolitan city, attracting immigrants from the day gold was discovered in 1886. It still attracts immigrants, and the result is a lively mix of cultures, languages and cuisines. It can be a dangerous city, but has an energetic, vibrant pace that soon becomes addictive.

The city is home to the country's super rich, and the desperately poor. Upmarket shopping malls abound, together with 70% of South Africa's corporate headquarters, the stock exchange, a significant Art Deco collection, casinos, theatres, museums, art galleries, flea markets, splashes of water and some 10 million trees.

Residents jive to the sounds of a host of musicians, from Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse, Hugh Masekela and Johnny Clegg to Sibongile Khumalo and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Several orchestras, numerous kwaito, rap, jazz, maskanda and mbaqanga artists keep Joburgers' feet tapping. The city has several major dance companies, from ballet to Afro-fusion. Several annual music and dance festivals - the joy of jazz, arts alive, dance umbrella - keep residents on their toes. Internationally recognised artists living in the city include William Kentridge, Sam Nthemhetha, Edoardo Villa, Penny Siopis, David Koloane, Cecil Skotnes, Robert Hodgins, Willem Boshoff, and Pat Matlua.

Joburg has several large soccer stadiums, and is to host the opening and final matches of the 2010 Fifa Football World Cup.

To the north-west of the city is the Cradle of Humankind, consisting of the Sterkfontein caves and Maropeng, the former the source of some of the world's most significant hominid fossils, the latter visitors' centre and museum set in a huge structure signifying the historical importance of the area in the beginnings of humankind.

The Sterkfontein Caves are where Mrs Ples, dating back 2.5-million years, and Little Foot, an almost complete ape-man skeleton just over 4 million years old, have been found. The 47 000-hectare Sterkfontein valley consists of around 40 different fossil sites, 13 of which have been excavated.

Just beyond the Cradle is the Magaliesberg mountain range, with the Crocodile River running towards this moderately high range on its way to the Hartebeespoort Dam , to become the Limpopo River.

Gauteng's other major city is Pretoria, founded around a Boer farming community in 1855, and the country's administrative capital since 1910. The home of president Paul Kruger, its reputation as the bastion of apartheid was exploded when President Nelson Mandela was inaugurated in 1994 at the iconic Union Buildings, the creation of Sir Herbert Baker. The city's Church Square consists of elegant, colonial-style buildings, a meeting place for Afrikaners for over 100 years. The Palace of Justice and the Raadsaal are the oldest buildings on the square, built in grand, neo-classical style with Joburg's early gold revenues.

South of the city is the University of South Africa, the country's largest correspondence university. Further south is the Voortrekker Monument, perhaps the most symbolic statement of Afrikaner nationalism in the country.

North of the city is the Tswaing Crater, one of best-preserved meteorite craters in the world. Some 220 000 years ago a meteorite hit the earth, creating a crater of just over one kilometre in diameter. It is one of around 170 impact craters in the world and one of four known impact craters in South Africa.


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