In the cen­ten­nial year of Nel­son Man­dela's birth, South Africa's largest city is where legacy and ex­pec­ta­tions meet

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South Africa’s largest city is where legacy and hope meet

The his­tory Jo­han­nes­burg, both in the an­cient past and in re­cent times, out­lines a story of hu­man sur­vival, strug­gle and tri­umph. The high plains in the north­east­ern re­gion of this coun­try at the tip of Africa have been home to hunter-gath­erer tribes for a thou­sand years or more. But it was the dis­cov­ery of some of the world’s rich­est de­posits of gold here in 1884 that un­leashed a tide of ex­pan­sion and drew new­com­ers from Africa, Europe and across the world.

For a cen­tury and more, the wealth from that gold, as well as di­a­monds and other trea­sures from the earth, made Jo­han­nes­burg – or Joburg, Jozi, Egoli, among its other names – the epi­cen­ter of busi­ness and com­merce in South Africa, and hence, the African con­ti­nent. To­day, how­ever, that sta­tus is be­ing chal­lenged by riches of a dif­fer­ent color – black gold – as coun­tries else­where in Africa trans­form them­selves into lead­ing pro­duc­ers of oil.

With that in mind, South Africa has turned its at­ten­tion to cul­ti­vat­ing other ma­jor in­dus­tries to bol­ster its econ­omy. One of the big ben­e­fi­cia­ries of these ef­forts has been the travel and tourism sec­tor which has drawn an in­creas­ing num­ber of guests from across the rest of the con­ti­nent and through­out the world; in fact, travel and tourism now out­ranks min­ing as a driver of GDP, con­tribut­ing nearly 7 per­cent to the na­tion’s econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to data from the World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil.

The coun­try en­joys a rich va­ri­ety of places to visit, from the ex­pan­sive beaches of Dur­ban on the In­dian Ocean to what is con­sis­tently voted one of the world’s best cities, Cape Town, on the At­lantic coast. There’s plenty in be­tween as well, like the Stel­len­bosch wine coun­try, cul­tural and arche­o­log­i­cal finds and of course, Big Five sa­fari ad­ven­tures.

But for all these op­por­tu­ni­ties South Africa has to of­fer, the coun­try’s eco­nomic and so­cial heart­beat is Jo­han­nes­burg. In large mea­sure, Joburg owes its role as the gate­way to the re­gion to O.R. Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port. This fa­cil­ity, which is the only air­port in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa with ser­vice to all six in­hab­ited con­ti­nents, han­dled some 21 mil­lion pas­sen­gers last year.


Jo­han­nes­burg and its sur­round­ing sub­urbs com­prise a rel­a­tively large ur­ban area of nearly 1,300 square miles, a lit­tle larger than Min­neapo­lis/St. Paul. How­ever while the lat­ter has about 2.4 mil­lion res­i­dents, Jo­han­nes­burg is home to more than 6 mil­lion peo­ple. De­spite this pop­u­la­tion den­sity, there’s still plenty of green space and ma­jor high­ways to con­nect ev­ery­thing.

How­ever all those peo­ple and all those cars do cre­ate a traf­fic night­mare, es­pe­cially along the much-trav­eled route from Jo­han­nes­burg to the na­tion’s ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal,

There are few places in Jo­han­nes­burg that have not been touched by Man­dela’s life and legacy

Pre­to­ria about 35 miles north. To re­lieve the con­ges­tion, the Gaut­eng provin­cial gov­ern­ment built the Gau­train, which links the down­town and the air­port with the af­flu­ent sub­urbs of Sandton and Rose­bank, and be­yond to Pre­to­ria.

Sec­tions of the Gau­train (“gau” is pro­nounced with a gut­tural “how” sound – think, “chutz­pah”) was opened in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the en­tire 50-mile route was up and run­ning by 2012. While rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive by many world metro stan­dards – R158 ($10.62) one-way peak from O.R. Tambo to Sandton – it’s prob­a­bly the quick­est and cer­tainly most com­fort­able way to make that trip.

Sandton is among Jo­han­nes­burg’s most af­flu­ent ar­eas. Orig­i­nally an up­scale sub­ur­ban res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood, it started at­tract­ing cor­po­rate of­fices and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in the1990s as South Africa’s old apartheid sys­tem crum­bled and the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict of down­town Joburg fell vic­tim to ur­ban blight. To­day the city is putting much ef­fort into restor­ing the old CBD but Sandton main­tains its po­si­tion as Jo­han­nes­burg’s pre­mier busi­ness ad­dress.

In large part, Sandton’s sta­tus is be­ing sus­tained by the ever-grow­ing pres­ence of re­tail, meet­ings and lodg­ing out­lets, in­clud­ing the

Sandton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, one of the largest meet­ings and events venues on the con­ti­nent. Lo­cated in the heart of Sandton, the con­ven­tion cen­ter is con­ve­niently at­tached to one of Africa’s largest shop­ping cen­ters Sandton City, which in turn is con­nected to Nel­son Man­dela Square. In the cen­ter of the square, sur­rounded by ho­tels, res­tau­rants and high-end shops, stands a 20-foot statue of the South African pres­i­dent and No­bel Prize win­ner.

Iron­i­cally this square is bounded on one side by Rivo­nia Road, which leads to an­other af­flu­ent sub­urb of Jo­han­nes­burg. It was in Rivo­nia that Man­dela and 10 other anti-apartheid lead­ers of the African Na­tional Congress were ar­rested in 1963. The sub­se­quent trial found the ac­tivists guilty of sab­o­tage and sen­tenced to life in prison. It was dur­ing this trial that Man­dela de­liv­ered his much-quoted “I am pre­pared to die” speech. And Man­dela’s re­lease in 1990 af­ter 27 years was a mile­stone on the road to end­ing apartheid.

In fact, there are few places in Jo­han­nes­burg that have not been touched by Man­dela’s life and legacy. But per­haps the most poignant of these set­tings is the South Western Town­ships, known to the world as Soweto. It was in this seg­re­gated and im­pov­er­ished sec­tion of Jo­han­nes­burg that Man­dela and his fam­ily lived from 1946 un­til 1962.

To­day the tiny red house at No. 8115 Vi­lakazi Street, Or­lando West, is a Na­tional Her­itage Site and a mu­seum. The fur­nish­ings in­side its rooms, the pho­to­graphs and mem­o­ra­bilia are all gen­uine fam­ily ar­ti­cles, and even bul­let holes in the walls are un­touched. The lit­tle house ex­udes a real sense of place about the man and his times. Open 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Ad­mis­sion R40/$2.75; man­de­la­

While Soweto is hardly what one would call ‘gen­tri­fied,’ the town­ship to­day seems a more con­vivial place than the gritty im­ages seen in films of the bloody 1970s Soweto Upris­ing. Just down the hill from Man­dela’s home on Vi­lakazi Street (so-called No­bel Lau­re­ates Way, the only street in the world where two Peace Prize win­ners have lived – Desmond Tutu’s house is just down the road), vis­i­tors to Soweto can quaff a beer and watch the scene from the cov­ered ta­bles at Sakhumzi Restau­rant.

The eatery came into ex­is­tence al­most by ac­ci­dent; Sakhumzi and his friends used to hang out un­der a tree near his home and share food and drink. Now 15 years later, the eat­ing area has spread. Ex­pect com­mu­nity-style seat­ing, in­for­mal, friendly ser­vice and a la carte and buf­fet op­tions. Open 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM;


While Soweto is cer­tainly an icon of South

Africa’s past strug­gles, it needs con­text. And that comes with a visit to the Apartheid Mu­seum, where the his­tory of this dark pe­riod is pre­sented in a multi-me­dia col­lec­tion across 22 ex­hibits. Dis­plays, pho­to­graphs, arte­facts and films ed­u­cate vis­i­tors on how apartheid came to be and the fight for free­dom that, even­tu­ally, brought it to an end. Open 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Ad­mis­sion R95/$6.50; aparthei­d­mu­

Fi­nally, a far cry from both Sandton and Soweto, Con­sti­tu­tion Hill com­mem­o­rates South Africa’s jour­ney to democ­racy. The site in­cludes the Old Fort, built in 1893 as Jo­han­nes­burg’s cen­tral prison. Dur­ing the An­glo-Boer war, the prison was for­ti­fied and served as both a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son and a POW camp. When that con­flict ended in 1902, the prison was ex­panded. Across the next 80 years it housed both the renowned – Nel­son Man­dela, Ma­hatma Gandhi, Joe Slovo, Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela, Fatima Meer – and tens of thou­sands of ev­ery­day cit­i­zens.

The prison was closed in 1983, but it would be an­other decade be­fore free­dom – and jus­tice – would be rep­re­sented on Con­sti­tu­tion Hill. With the col­lapse of apartheid and the first demo­cratic elec­tions in 1994, a new Con­sti­tu­tional Court was es­tab­lished as the high­est court in the land to en­sure the hu­man rights of all cit­i­zens un­der the law.

The new build­ing which houses the court is a mas­ter­piece of sym­bol­ism; even the bricks were painstak­ingly taken from the in­fa­mous Await­ing Trial Block and used to con­struct a wall in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court foyer, a wall di­rectly be­hind the judges’ chairs and the Great African Steps, which lie just out­side the court.

From the stir­ring art col­lec­tion to the court doors, en­graved with the 27 Bill of Rights, the somber mu­seum com­plex that is the Old Fort, Con­sti­tu­tion Hill is a liv­ing mon­u­ment that truly tells the story of South Africa’s strug­gles and ul­ti­mately, its hopes.

Con­sti­tu­tion Hill stands as a liv­ing memo­rial to South Africa’s jour­ney to democ­racy

IM­AGE: Soweto is the most pop­u­lous black ur­ban res­i­den­tial area in the coun­try, with a pop­u­la­tion of around a mil­lion

IM­AGE: Foyer of the High Court on Con­sti­tu­tion HIll

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