Johannesburg, commonly known as Jo’Burg or Jozi, is South Africa’s second largest city with a population of over than 3 million.
Just over 100 years ago Johannesburg was an endless, untouched savannah. This changed in 1886, when gold was discovered in Witwatersrand. The news spread like wildfire and fortune hunters from all over the world descended on the area. By the start of the 20th century, the population of Johannesburg had reached 100,000 and the mines employed over 75,000 workers. Now 40% of the world’s gold is found in the greater Johannesburg region, giving the city the nickname of ‘Egoli’, meaning ‘place of gold’.
How Johannesburg got its name is something that historians are still unable to decide. What they do have clear is that is was named after a man called Johan, however Johan was a common Dutch name in the 19th century and there are a number of Johans who could claim the credit. One theory is that, when the gold was discovered, the state sent two men to investigate and to choose a site on which a town could be built. These two men were called Johann Friedrich Bernhard Rissik and Christiaan Johannes Joubert. They found a little settlement and named it after the name that they both had in common.
We arrived at OR Tambo International Airport, the biggest and busiest airport on the continent of Africa, and will only be spending one night in Johannesburg. Our hotel is around half an hour from the airport and so I am looking forward to seeing a little of the city on our way.
At each traffic light men stand by the road waiting for the cars to stop. When they do they approach them carrying bin bags, offering commuters the opportunity to empty the rubbish from their car for a tip.
At a central reservation a woman is packing things into bags while her toddler tries to help. The woman’s clothes are stained and she has no shoes. The toddler, in comparison, is quite well-dressed and is trying to fit a blanket into an oversized handbag.
Around 20% of Johannesburg residents live in abject poverty and there are approximately 4,500 homeless people living on the streets. In addition to this around 108,000 families live in illegal ‘backyard dwellings’ and 116,827 families live in ‘informal settlements’. Many live on less than R25,000 (approximately 2,000 euros) per annum. Johannesburg is also a magnet for illegal immigrants from other African countries, which puts a major strain on the city and provincial services. Some 16% of households lack municipal sanitation, 15% do not receive municipal electricity and 3.6% do not have water supplies.
Our hotel is in Sandton, the most important financial and business district in South Africa, known as ‘Africa’s richest square mile’. Sandton was originally a suburb of large, wealthy estates and is still known as one of the most opulent areas in Johannesburg. In the 1990s an increase in violent crime and the growing squalor of the city prompted a mass exodus of business and affluent residents into distant suburbs, most notably Sandton. Sandton then became known as the refuge of the ‘white flight’ from Johannesburg and is now home to the top investment banks, financial consultants, the Johannesburg stock exchange and one of the biggest convention centres on the continent.
We check in at the hotel and ask the receptionist if it is safe to walk around outside of the hotel. “Yes, its is safe”, she replies, “well, pretty safe – I mean, if you see something suspicious just run”.
Once we have taken our suitcases to our rooms we walk across the skybridge that links our hotel to the Sandton City Shopping Centre, apparently one of Africa’s leading and more prestigious shopping centres. We have a wander around and then return to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We ask the concierge where we can have dinner, within walking distance of the hotel. He recommends the Butcher’s Shop and Grill in Nelson Mandela Square and accompanies us across the road to show us where it is.
The Butcher’s Shop and Grill is a popular restaurant and quickly gets very busy. As we enter the restaurant I notice a sign advising clients of the ‘elegant/casual dress code’ underneath a hippopotamus head on the wall – not quite what I had expected! The menu offers a variety of dishes with a ‘taste of Africa’ including ostrich fillet, game carpaccio (thin slices of raw springbok or kudu) and ‘Kobe style’ steak.
After dinner we stroll through Nelson Mandela Square. The square made the headlines when, commemorating South Africa’s first decade of democracy, a six metre tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled and the square was re-named after South Africa’s first black president. The statue weighs over 2.5 tons, measures 2.3 metres from elbow to elbow and each shoe is 1 metre long.