Johannesburg, South Africa’s city of gold and the largest city in the country is one probably one of the first places most visitors to South African will visit. This metropolis had its origins in the gold fields of the 19th century and has grown into an economic powerhouse and the site of many struggles against the previous, oppressive government. The city has lots to offer the visitors, both local and international visitors.

On the surface, Johannesburg offers all the attractions that any large city can offer to visitors. Theatres, shopping malls, restaurants and so much more are the order of the day in many parts of the city. Johannesburg is considered the leader when it comes to fashion and entertainment in South Africa offering visitors the best of the best in the country. The city has numerous art galleries showcasing South African talent and beautiful botanical gardens that grow rich and green in the African climate.

The real South Africa is on the streets of Soweto

But, what makes Johannesburg perhaps another great destination is the historical significance of the city. Johannesburg was not only the site of one of South Africa’s largest gold rushes at the turn of the 19th century, but it was also the focus of some of the greatest struggles against apartheid.

Soweto, the South Western Township, lies just south of Johannesburg and while it is certainly large enough to qualify as a city on its own, it is generally considered to be part of the Johannesburg experience. Originally developed as a township for black Africans during the apartheid era, Soweto has become the iconic black city of South Africa. It is an eclectic mix of matchbox houses and mansions where African and global cultures are melted together to create an experience that is, fundamentally, Soweto.

Most tours of Soweto are bound to pass by Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was signed that was the start of the struggle that would eventually lead to the abolishment of apartheid. Another interesting site is Nelson Mandela’s house. This unassuming home has been converted into a museum of the most famous prisoner in the world. Nearby, in the same street, are the homes of Desmond Tutu, Walter Sisulu and Winnie Mandela.

The Apartheid Museum is one of the most interesting destinations in Johannesburg. This museum was designed, conceived and run by a group containing film makers, historians, designers and experienced curators. The museum documents the rise and fall of apartheid. The exhibitions contain film footage, photos and artefacts of the struggle and important dates of the battle against apartheid. The 22 areas of the museum take the visitor through an emotional journey of apartheid revealing some of the worst and best moments.

Related to the struggle for freedom is the Hector Pieterson Memorial (also sometimes Peterson, though this is a misspelling). This memorial serves as a reminder of 16 June 1976, the day of the infamous Soweto Uprising. It was during this day that the world was made aware of the horror of the apartheid oppression where, amongst others, 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead. Today the memorial stands a reminder, not just of that tragic day in the nation’s history, but also as a beacon of how far South Africa has come.

Take some time to unwind at Gold Reef City

Constitution Hill, located in central Johannesburg is another memorial of South Africa’s turbulent history but also an achievement in South Africa’s advances in human rights. The building used to be a prison but was the site of some of the moving struggles in South Africa’s past. From British soldiers rebelling to help the Boers fight for freedom, to black activists fighting for equality. Today the building houses the largest human rights library in the southern hemisphere and a museum that highlights the building’s role in the struggles of more than a century.

After all the serious history, it is time to unwind and Gold Reef City offers the visitor to Johannesburg just that. But, despite the thrill rides, casino and theme park atmosphere, even here visitors can learn something. Gold Reef City is a living history lesson of a turn of the century mining town. Between the adrenaline-pumping rides are historical buildings and exhibitions of the days when Johannesburg was still a mining town. It is the perfect way to unwind as the history lesson comes along with the fun.

Johannesburg is a metropolis that has much to offer visitors. Aside from the usual attractions a city of its calibre has to offer, Johannesburg also offers visitors a glance at South Africa’s history that many may not even be aware of. The city of gold has more than enough to keep visitors busy for a long time and beckons them to come visit again.


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