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Johannesburg. Introduction for a South African tour.

Johannesburg. Introduction for a South African tour.

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

Johannesburg, South Africa

An Odyssey Traveller South Africa tours for couples and solo travellers will spend several days on this trip in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Soweto twice during their small group tour of Southern Africa. During this time they will travel with the tour leader and local tour guide who will share their knowledge and experience of this complex and fascinating region on this South African tourJohannesburg is this small group tour fourth stop on our itinerary after the tour commences in Cape town having taken the short flight from Knysna rather than an overland journey this city.

Johannesburg is located in South Africa‘s smallest and most densely-populated province, Gauteng, which owes much of its development to the discovery of gold in 1886. Gold and the associated economic development has made it the economic pulse of the country. It is thought of as a “smart” province, with fine academic establishments, advanced technology and Southern Africa’s most sophisticated financial markets. Gauteng’s bustling metropolitan centres are Johannesburg and Pretoria. 

Johannesburg, or Joburg, is the most populous and largest city in South Africa with a population of 5.6 million. Most travellers enter South Africa via O.R.Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park, Gauteng province to commence their Africa tour, be it an adventure or safari tour. Gauteng is a Sotho word meaning ‘Place of Gold’. Today Gauteng is known as the economic powerhouse of Southern Africa. It is considered a dynamic, cosmopolitan, colourful, fast-paced and fun city yet unmistakeably African.

Johannesburg is one of the youngest of the world’s major cities. Settlement began in Johannesburg in 1886 when gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand by an Australian prospector, George Harrison, who later, it is believed, sold his claim for £10. Witwatersrand is a 56 kilometre long, north-facing scarp that consists of a hard, erosion resistant quartzite metamorphic rock, over which several north-flowing rivers form waterfalls. This accounts for the Afrikaans name meaning ‘ridge of white waters’. 

What happens next becomes part of the shared history with travellers on a great South Africa tour program, because it is the stories shared by the tour guide that make the trip. As in California and Australia, the discovery of gold spurred a feverish gold rush of fortune hunters from all over the world. People from all parts of Africa came to work the gold fields as contract labourers. The government of the Boer Republic established a city at the site and by 1890 it was the largest settlement in South Africa.  Several large mining companies had taken control of the mines, creating huge fortunes for the owners who were mostly English-speaking newcomers. Tensions between the mine barons and the Transvaal’s Boer government—fed by British colonial aspirations in the region—led to the Anglo-Boer War (Boer War) of 1899–1901. By its end, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were under British control. By the end of the war, the population of Johannesburg was 100,000.

This pic shows aerial view of Johannesburg city skyline at day time. Shows Johannesburg cityscape and downtown.

In the early 20th century, the British colonial government began to force blacks from the inner city to the outskirts, starting the process of racial separation that became known as Apartheid or ‘apartness’. These settlements were largely unplanned and conditions were substandard. The poor conditions under which the city’s black majority lived led to protests and strikes including a 1920 strike by 70,000 black mine workers. 

The population of blacks around the city doubled during the 1930s and 1940s with the growth of manufacturing and when many white workers were in the military during World War II. The growth in numbers and the appalling conditions encouraged the beginnings of a movement of black nationalism that led to a backlash in the 1950s when the National Party came to power and implemented legislated apartheid, banning all black opposition organisations. A further reaction came in the 1960s when hundreds of thousands of blacks were relocated from Johannesburg to ‘homelands’ and their movements were strictly regulated by pass laws. 

The catalyst that finally overthrew apartheid and white minority dominance came on 16 June 1976, when South Africanpolice fired on a student protest in the black township of Soweto. This sparked a month long protest of violence that spread throughout South Africa. The unrest continued through the 1980s and in 1984, violence erupted in the Johannesburg townships. Finally, black militancy, the releasing of Nelson Mandela and the effects of international sanctions toppled the apartheid regime and led to South Africa’s first democratic elections of 1994.

Following the election and the removal of the apartheid laws the black townships have slowly been integrated into the city once more and blacks have moved into formerly white districts in the city centre and inner suburbs of Johannesburg. However, the city still faces many challenges, including a serious crime problem and de facto segregation as many whites, and rich blacks, have retreated to gated communities in the wealthy enclaves of Sandhurst, Rosebank, Parktown, Dunkeld and Westcliff to the north and northeast of the city. Justice Malala, an award-winning journalist and political analyst, says Johannesburg is the bastard child of the worst aspects of capitalist greed and 20th-century racism’.

What is there to do and see in Johannesburg?


For most western travellers, shopping in Johannesburg is embarrassingly cheap because of the low value of the Rand. Johannesburg is one of the major retail centres in Southern Africa. There are street traders, 20 shopping malls with the Carlton Centre, the Small Street Mall, the upscale Hyde Park Mall and the huge Sandton City Shopping Centre being the most popular.



Not all sections of central Johannesburg are safe to walk around alone and never at night. Care must be taken, but if travelling on an Odyssey Small Group, escorted tour your tour leader will explain and ensure safe activities. There are hotel cities located on the four sides of Johannesburg, usually built around a casino. These are safe and pleasant, if somewhat bland. They have many swimming pools, restaurants, shops, function centres and hotels. The suburbs where the malls are located also have good restaurants and upscale hotels catering for tourists and overseas business people. 



With the end of apartheid and international sanctions, South Africans returned to international sports. Most popular are the Olympic Games and Rugby Union World Cup. Rugby was traditionally an Afrikaaner sport, but blacks have gradually been welcomed. Ellis Park can seat 100,000 for rugby games. Football (soccer) is the favourite sport of black SouthAfricans. Soccer City stadium on Soweto Road is built in the shape of a calabash or African cooking pot and can hold 130,000 spectators. There are cricket grounds and cricket is becoming more popular, although it was once an exclusively Anglo sport. 


Parks and Gardens 

Greater Johannesburg has more than 600 parks and green spaces, mostly in the suburban areas. The Braamfontein Spruit Trail winds for about 25 kilometres through Johannesburg, Randburg and Sandton and links a number of municipal parks including the 100 hectare Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary.


Museums and Galleries

The Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank is a commercial gallery exhibiting a variety of works by South African artists including landscapes and traditional tribal art. Museum Africa has an outstanding section on the history of Johannesburgincluding squatters’ shacks and homemade weapons. The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is a wonderful, modern museum showing the impacts of apartheid. The Lesedi Cultural Village is an hour from Johannesburg and showcases people of Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Ndebele and Basotho origin. Visitors can see different villages, taste different foods and watch an energetic and colourful performance. Another fascinating place is the Cradle of Civilisation at the Stirkfontein Caves, about an hour from both Johannesburg and Pretoria. Within the caves scientists discovered many hominid and other animal fossils, dating back to the birth of humankind.

When joining an Odyssey South Africa tour, the history of the place visited or in the case of this escorted tour a South African safari in the National park and take the journey along the Western Cape and the famous garden route with its stunning scenery along the coastline to finish at Knysna ( the Eastern cape) looking into the Indian ocean and a trip into Botswana are just some of the highlights of this tour which you can read about in the articles posted about South Africatours offered by Odyssey. There is one article about the animals on a South Africa safari you can expect to observe on a guided tour on safari on the game reserve or in the National park. An article about Pretoria, and also the Garden route from Cape Town that includes Cape Winelands and one article on Soweto.


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