world’s largest inland city'
a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi. There’s a train
that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe. There’s a train that
comes from Angola and Mozambique – from Lesotho from Botswana
The lines above are from Hugh Masekela’s quintessential
anthem, Stimela (steam engine), which intensely captures
the essence of the millions of migrant labourers who, since 4 October
1886 (when the 1st claims were laid out) have mined the gold that
built the economy of South Africa and Johannesburg. The city today
has developed far beyond the status of a mere gold rush settlement,
becoming a vibrant, violent and volatile place, where fortunes as
well as lives can be lost and found like a small children’s
In Zulu, Johannesburg is called E’goli (place
of gold), an nickname no longer quite fitting, as the last of Johannesburg’s
mines ran out of gold bearing ore decades ago. The immense yellow
mine dumps, once the city’s prime icons that dominated old
postcards, have largely been recycled. New commercial, retail and
industrial districts have risen to substitute these 40 million ton
yellow white mounds. In ancient cities, one may be able to find
a sense of durableness within the walls of a formidable fortress,
but Johannesburg is a city in flux, a place where change is the
only enduring feature.
Sub Saharan Africa’s greatest and, at over 2,500 square kilometres
(900 square miles), the world’s largest inland city,
Johannesburg straddles rows of jagged quartzite ridges, under which
a century of gold mining has produced a veritable honeycomb of tunnels.
Technology may have claimed the mine sands, however millions of
trees have risen from the sprawling suburbs (on satellite images,
much of Johannesburg resembles a rainforest), an unpredicted backdrop
to a formidable collection of Victorian and Edwardian
architecture, as well as concrete, chrome and glass skyscrapers.
Improvised shacks of scrap, reflected in the glossy glass façade
of the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange building on Diagonal Street,
bear testimony to the opening between the fantastically wealthy
and the desperately poor that still divides this city.
Situated 550 kilometres (344 miles) from the nearest port, on a
vast inland plateau, 1,700 metres (5,700 feet) high, Johannesburg’s
climate is much milder and drier than its latitude would propose
and is also free of malaria, a disease that afflicts much of the
rest of Africa. Crime may have become synonymous
with Johannesburg in the minds of several people, however, things
are changing, with the green and yellow uniforms of the Central
Improvement District (CID) security guards and security
cameras which are everywhere, a new feature on almost every street
corner in targeted areas.
Josi, Jo’burg or Joeys to the locals, is a city which is undergoing
dramatic changes. Black people, previously banned
from living (legally) outside of townships, such as Soweto, are
moving into the downtown and inner city areas, while previously
advantaged (white) citizens are migrating outwards, due to increasing
crime, squalor and perhaps some unwillingness to live side by side
the newly enfranchised majority.
Ironically, almost all of the old apartheid era
street names, such as Barry Hertzog Avenue and Hendrick Verwoerd
Drive (named after the architects of this crime against humanity)
still survive. However, plans are occurring to change this, DF Malan
Drive was recently renamed Beyers Naude Drive, after the rebellious
anti apartheid cleric and shortly, in Newtown (amongst others) West
Street will change to Ntemi Piliso, Wolhuter to Margaret Mcingana,
Bezuidenhout to Miriam Makeba, Becker to Gerard Sekoto, Park to
Barney Simon and Goch to Henry Nxumalo, therefore visitors should
be warned that some of the street addresses in this guide could
soon be outdated.