Johannesburg – by Justin Cohen

The following post is by Justin Cohen of southafricanstudenttraveller.com. All pictures by Justin Cohen.

South Africa is a unique country within the African continent. Most South Africans can speak several of its 11 official languages. Our national anthem is multi-lingual, a rarity. South Africa’s cuisine is a testament to its rich history, with a mix of African, Dutch and Asian flavours, to name a few.

Johannesburg exemplifies this uniqueness as the economic ‘power hub’ of Southern Africa and even Africa. ‘J’burg’ is a fast-growing city and is nearing a Megalopolis in size. One of the most recent signs of growth is that the Central Business District of Johannesburg was moved from the center to a new area called Sandton.

Most people are under the impression that Africa is untamed and wild. The image of animals roaming free is usually the first one that appears in people’s minds. True to an extent, but only in game reserves and wildlife conservancies, not in urban areas. Wildlife hasn’t been forgotten; on the outskirts of the city, black-backed jackals still roam. Just under an hour’s drive from Johannesburg there is a mountain range called the Magaliesberg (named after a Tswana Chief named Magali). Here, wild leopard hunt baboon. These leopards are very wary of people and are hardly ever seen. Five hours away from Johannesburg is Kruger National Park, South Africa’s flagship game park, where you can see the Big Five (Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Rhino).

One won’t find the ‘plains of Africa dotted with thorn trees’ out here. Johannesburg is situated on a high altitude plateau on what is called the Highveld (High Grounds/ Highlands) where grasses mainly populate the natural areas, with very few trees to be found. However, Johannesburg is one of the most treed cities and as a result of trees being planted in gardens, Johannesburg is home to one of the largest artificial forests.

Johannesburg’s public transport system has irregular buses with limited routes, so most people take an informal ‘taxi’ where mini-buses are used to carry passengers. These are not very road-worthy or safe, so people who can afford a car use that as their primary form of transport. There is also a railway system which is the sole mode of transportation for some. They are usually very slow but the train system costs R30 ($4) a month, probably one of the most affordable modes of transport in the world.

Johannesburg has its own set of interesting places to visit:

  • Johannesburg’s biggest site is Constitution Hill, home to the highest court in South Africa on constitutional matters: the Constitutional Court.
  • The site of the Old Fort prison complex which today is a museum which tells the story of South Africa’s turbulent past. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Luthuli all spent many nights within.
  • The South African gold rush started in Johannesburg so you can still visit the gold mines that were left behind.

Johannesburg is fast becoming a world-class city, with a new international airport, our high speed train and a people with a focus on the future whilst Johannesburg‘s historical sites help connect the city and South Africa to its past. The variety that Johannesburg has to offer makes it a prime choice for any traveller.

  • Johannesburg WAS a world class city. Almost all of its popular night spots are ruined and derelict. The same for its downtown hotels, shopping centres, parks and popular eateries. The city has is fast falling into complete ruin with rubbish everywhere and blacks lazing around in their new found “freedom” and filth. But, hey, it Africa! . They need to rebuilt and revitalize the current eye sores, not build high speed rail links through areas that look like they have been used for nuclear testing.

    • If you would like to write a post about your experiences in Jo’burg, good or bad, let us know…