Wednesday, 16 December 2009

What to expect: Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg is the business hub of South Africa. It is a city built on a plain 6,000 feet above sea level.
Johannesburg is almost unique amongst the major cities of the world. Most were built on a major road, on a river or beside the sea. The only reason that Johannesburg was born was because of gold. It was gold that was found in abundance and the city sprang up in response. It is hardly surprising that the city is nicknamed Egoli - Place of Gold - by the Zulu speaking inhabitants.
The City of Gold has spawned some interesting sites. Gold Reef City is built in the style of the late 19th century when the city was born. Gold Reef City comprises a theme park with a Victorian fun-fair, entertainment and hotel as well as a casino offering the chance to win or lose vast sums of money. For the theme park, a single modest cover price covers all the rides.
The casino houses a theatre as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
The Apartheid Museum is right next door to Gold Reef City and well worth a visit. This provides insight into life under Apartheid and the struggle against it.
The constitutional court is built on the site of the Fort Prison which played host to Nelson Mandella and many others during the years of Apartheid. The court and grounds are open to the public for a small fee (though free on Sundays). The court itself features some stunning architecture. It is worth taking a guided tour which includes the court, the art collection and the prison. The prison shows what life was like. There were actually two prisons. Black and white prisoners had separate facilities.
New-Town is an old part of Johannesburg that has been regenerated. This is a cultural centre in a way. The Market Theatre played a huge role in providing a haven for free speech in a muzzled society continues to play a role in featuring new fringe theatre productions. Museum Africa provides art and artifacts for the nation and is worth a visit.
Johannesburg's Central Business District became run-down and is being regenerated. Much business has moved to Sandton which has become the new business centre in many ways. Sandton is full of new and impressive buildings. Only a few decades ago Sandton was semi-rural with homes on large pieces of land and quiet streets. Nelson Mandella Square is home to many of Johannesburg's restaurants and provides acces to an upmarket shopping centre.
Johannesburg is full of shopping centres, ranging from low cost to upmarket establishments. Not quite a shopper's paradise, but still plenty of scope.
Parkmore is a quiet leafy suburb in Northern Johannesburg that has become a major centre for restaurants. Many are fairly upmarket, but offer excellent value for money when compared to restaurants in New York or London.
For nightlife, you many visit the various casinos that surround the city. Mentecasino is the most impressive. It features a world-class theatre - or Teatro - featuring major productions. The casino hosts dozens of restaurants, cinemas, clubs and a bird sanctuary as well as a five star hotel.
Perhaps Jphannesburg can best serve as a centre for further travel and exploration. Sun City is well worth a visit just two hours away by car. Sun City features casinos, top-class entertainment, water sports and of course the Lost City - a spectacular site in itself.From SunCity take a trip through the Pilansberg Game Reserve with a qualified guide on a landrover. Night tours and day tours are available.
Closer to home is the Cradle of Humankind, the site where some of the earliest humanoids ever found. Once again restaurants, accomodation, entertainment are available.
While visiting Johannesburg, be aware. The city is known for its high level of crime, though most people are able to lead relatively normal lives. The Johannseburg climate is mild with a dry winter (May-August) and a hot summer (December-March). The hot summers are broken by thundershowers.
Johannesburg is upgrading itself for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. New stadiums have been built and old stadiums improved.
Johannesburg may prove itself to be well worth a visit.