Johannesburg (often shortened to Jo’burg) is normally only used as an overnight stop between flight connections or onward travel. Undeniably troubled by crime issues, the city nevertheless has sights of significant interest. Jo’burg offers the visitor a chance to see the gold fields which fuelled the city’s growth and also to understand South Africa’s past and hopeful future at the acclaimed Apartheid Museum and on a tour through Soweto – the sprawling township which was the site of so much unhappiness and rebellion under apartheid. Here one can see the stark contrasts from the slums and original ‘matchbox’ houses through to the Soweto ‘Beverly Hills’. Must-sees include the terrific new Hector Pietersen museum, named after the first child shot dead in the 1976 youth uprising; the Kliptown Memorial where the ANC signed its Freedom Charter in 1956 and Regina Mundi Church, an important gathering place during the apartheid years. Orlando West is the tourist centre of Soweto. Vilakazi Street has Nelson Mandela’s old house at number 8115 which has now been converted into a visitor’s centre; and Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela’s mansions are in this neighbourhood.
For those wishing to embrace city life a little more thoroughly, the main tourist centre is the Newtown Cultural Precinct, which has the Market Theatre, Newtown Music Hall (a hugely popular jazz club), the recently opened Nelson Mandela Bridge and Museum Africa, as well as restaurants, shops and markets. The Melville area offers pavement cafes, bars and sophisticated nightlife. Rosebank is the Covent Garden of Johannesburg, with stylish shopping malls, quality markets selling craftwork, antiques, jewellery, clothes, fabrics and curios from all over Africa, art galleries, art-house cinemas and an eclectic mix of over 200 restaurants and coffee shops.
There is the new state-of-the-art visitor centre at the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site in the Sterkfontein Valley, where dolomitic limestone caves have produced nearly half of the world’s hominid fossil discoveries.