The best places to experience history in Johannesburg
Also referred to as Jozi, Joburg, Joni, eGoli (‘city of gold’), or Joey’s, Johannesburg is easily the most populated city in South Africa. It is the provincial capital of Gauteng and is the wealthiest South African province, with the largest economy of any metropolitan area within Sub-Saharan Africa. The city is one of the 50 biggest metropolitan regions in the world, and is the world’s biggest city that is not located on a river, lake or shoreline. Joburg is also the origin of a large-scale gold and diamond trade, due to its location on the mineral-rich Witwatersrand. Though much of the city is urbanised and peppered with big buildings, busy streets and skyscrapers, there is plenty to do and see here.
1. Visit the Apartheid Museum
This is always an insightful and enlightening experience that serves to educate guests about the significant history of South Africa. Established in 2001, the Museum is the first of its kind to illustrate the rise and fall of apartheid. It is a perfect example of design, space and landscape that offers the international community a unique South African experience. The exhibits include provocative film footage, photographs, text panels and artifacts that exemplify the events and human tales that were part of this controversial movement. With 22 separate exhibition spaces, guests are led through an emotional journey that helps in understanding what life was truly like during these devastating times. The Museum acts as a beacon of hope, showing the world that South Africa is gradually coming to terms with its oppressive past and is working towards a better and brighter future.
2. Visit the Cradle of Humankind
This is a World Heritage Site nominated for the rich variety of fossils discovered in the region that shed light on human ancestors, their relatives, and the environments in which they lived. Majority of the site lies in Gauteng and is set on dolomite, a rock type which is slightly soluble in water. This has two main effects: the formation of caves and the formation of fossils. There are presently more than 200 caves in this area, with perhaps even more to still discover. There are 13 fossil sites that have been comprehensively examined, with some producing fossils of human ancestors and their relatives. A range of stone tools used by these ancestors, such as axes and scrapers, have also been identified. The variety of other creatures that also dwelt in this area includes extinct animals such as short-necked giraffe, giant buffalo, giant hyena and numerous species of sabre-toothed cats. Several fossils of surviving mammals, like leopards and hartebeest, have also been discovered.
3: Visit the Voortrekker Monument
This big, grey colossus can be spotted from all directions upon your approach to Pretoria. The Monument was constructed in honour of the Voortrekkers (‘pioneers’) who departed from the Cape Colony in their thousands between 1835 and 1854. Architect Gerard Moerdijk wished to design a monument that would stand a thousand years to describe the history and the significance of the Great Trek to its descendants, and so he did. The magnificent Voortrekker Monument is located in the northern portion of South Africa, in a nature reserve. It is unique, commemorating the history of South African pioneers in a stunning environment. Currently, it is the most visited site of its kind in Gauteng and one of the top ten cultural historical attractions in the country.
Aside from its rich history, Johannesburg also offers a wide range of fantastic shopping malls and markets, as well as a spectacular variety of evening hotspots which buzz with activity at night.
Image of Sandton Nightlife courtesy of iSandton
Interview with Sine: an expat who gives advice on life in South Africa
Q: “Describe an ideal way to spend a weekend in Johannesburg?”
A: “Well – my ideal way might not be your ideal way. I can sit reading by our pool overlooking Dainfern Valley and enjoying Joburg’s sunny weather, and call that a successful day.
But here are some visitor tips: The Bryanston Organic Market on a Saturday morning or the Rosebank Rooftop Market on Sundays for African craft shopping, Montecasino or Melrose Arch for dinner and evening entertainment, a Soweto tour or the Apartheid Museum for some South African culture and history, and perhaps a visit at the DeWildt Cheetah Centre or the Lion Park to see animals.”