Gauteng was built on the discovery of gold. Even today the province still has an edgy, frontier feel to it. It’s the smallest of South Africa’s provinces, but the economic heartbeat of the whole country.
Johannesburg may be a business hub, but is not a natural leisure destination. However, ORT International Airport on the outskirts of the city is the arrivals port for the majority of inbound flights, and some tours and safaris may require a layover in the city. So, a brief description may be in order.
The city’s downtown area, the heart of corporate South Africa before the 1980s, went through a phase of decentralisation and collapse when businesses relocated to Sandton a few kilometres to the north. However, after 25 years of decline, the CBD is in the throes of a second coming. There’s a new appreciation for the Art Deco architecture that predominates, and large chunks of the inner city are being rejuvenated with a strong African flavour.
First was Newtown, an industrial area on the north-western edge of the city centre, where old buildings found new uses. The old produce market became a theatre and the home of Museum Africa; an old bus factory converted to an artist studio and a craft market; and the old Electric Workshop became the location of Sci-Bono, a museum dedicated to maths, science and technology. A workers’ museum, beer museum, art galleries, dance companies and jazz clubs have set up shop in Newtown, all within in easy distance of the neighbourhood’s central focus, Mary Fitzgerald Square.
More recently, an urban renewal project has taken shape on the eastern edge. Called the Maboneng Precinct, two of its developments have already made their mark. One is Main Street Life, a transformed industrial building and location of The Bioscope, an independent cinema set to diversify the content on the South African movie circuit. The second is Arts on Main, a hub for the creative community. Housed in an old warehouse, it is home to artist studios and galleries, retail outlets and a rooftop bar.
If this is not quite your scene, lifestyle precincts like 44 Stanley Avenue in Auckland Park, Parktown Quarter, and Design Quarter in Fourways are great places to shop, eat, and socialise.
If you have the time, a visit to Soweto is always a rewarding experience. Fortify yourself for the day’s outing by visiting an authentic restaurant or tavern. You can pull up a bar stool, drink some local beer, have a real township meal and get to know a little more about township life.
The anti-apartheid struggle sites are really the big drawcards in Soweto. There’s the Hector Pietersen Museum, Vilakazi Street and the Mandela House Museum. Continue this theme when you leave Soweto, by visiting the Apartheid Museum, Liliesleaf Farm and Constitution Hill. All offer insights into the turbulent past of the country and bring many of the landmark events into stark relief.
For a lighter day’s entertainment there is no better place than Gold Reef City. Not only will you learn how Jo’burg grew from a dusty mining town to become the ‘Big Apple of Africa’, but you can go on funfair rides and even squeeze in a bit of gambling. It’s kitsch and over the top, showcasing an entirely different aspect of Johannesburg.