I actually think Johannesburg represents the future. My version of what I think the world is going to become looks like Johannesburg.

~Neill Blomkamp

Johannesburg is a large city in Gauteng Province of South Africa. It was established as a small village controlled by a Health Committee in 1886 with the discovery of an outcrop of a gold reef on the farm Langlaagte. The majority of the population is formed by South Africa’s black residents who mostly live in Soweto. Unlike other South African cities, no language group dominates, although English is the established lingua franca.

The city is the economic hub of South Africa, and increasingly for the rest of Africa. Although estimates vary, about 10% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP is generated in Johannesburg. The contrast between rich and poor has led to one of the highest crime rates in the world. The more affluent tend to live in houses with a high level of security by western standards. Don’t avoid Johannesburg because of its crime, however, since it is perfectly possible to have a safe and enjoyable stay if precautions are taken.

There are many things that are unique to Johannesburg. It features a distinct street entrepreneurship, and motorists can buy things from vendors selling goods at traffic lights, as in many other developing-world cities. This includes food, umbrellas, soccer balls, cellular phone accessories and many other goods.

With around 6 million trees, Johannesburg is most likely the world’s largest man-made urban forest. The city is certainly one of the greenest in the world, considering that the natural landscape is savannah.

History of Johannesburg

Settlement of Johannesburg began in 1886 when gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand by an Australian prospector named George Harrison and on 20 September, when President Paul Kruger proclaimed the findings open for public digging, Johannesburg was founded.

Blacks from all parts of southern Africa came to work the gold fields either permanently or temporarily as contract laborers. The men had to do that for at least a year. During this time they were separated from their wives and children and were living under inhumane conditions in the so-called “hostels”.

By the 1890s, several large mining companies had taken control of the area’s gold mines, creating huge fortunes for their owners. the Transvaal’s Boer government—fed by British colonial aspirations in the region—led to the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1901. By its end, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were under British control.

The British Commander, Lord Kitchener, destroyed Boer farms under his Scorched Earth policy and forcibly interned women, children, servants, and laborers – resulting in thousands of deaths, in concentration camps.

The substandard conditions in which most of the city’s black majority lived led to protests and strikes, including a 1920 strike by 70,000 black mine workers. The growth of manufacturing in the 1930s and 1940s brought an even greater influx of blacks into the city, especially during World War II (1939–45), when many white workers were serving in the military.

The milestone event in the black resistance movement that eventually overthrew apartheid and white dominance came on June 16, 1976, when South African police opened fire on a student protest in the black township of Soweto. Black militancy, combined with the effects of international sanctions, finally toppled the apartheid system in the early 1990s and led to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

Sadly tourists are often intimidated by Johannesburg’s perception of high crime, and miss exploring a city that, better than any other in South Africa, encapsulates the terrible injustices declared against the blacks between 1948 and 1990.

It is also a city whose people continue to, probably more than most, relish in their new found freedom.

Top Destinations in Johannesburg

  •  Apartheid MuseumApartheid Museum in Johannesburg
  •  Arts on MainArts on Main in Johannesburg


  •  CIRCA on Jellicoe CIRCA on Jellicoe in Johannesburg
  •  Constitution HillConstitution Hill in Johannesburg


  •  Joziburg LaneJoziburg Lane in Johannesburg
  •  Liliesleaf FarmLiliesleaf Farm in Johannesburg


  •  Origins CentreOrigins Centre in Johannesburg
  •  Wits Art MuseumWits Art Museum in Johannesburg