Aug 5, 2011   //   by Sam Wingate   //   Safaris  //  Comments Off on Johannesburg

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa. Also known as Jozi or Egoli, the City of Gold, thousands of prospectors from all over the world were attracted to this area when gold was discovered in 1886 and today Johannesburg is the largest commercial centre in Africa with a population of about 7 million people including Soweto and surrounding communities.
Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, is only 50 kms from Johannesburg and these two cities have practically merged. They are both in Gauteng, the smallest province with the largest population of about 12 million people.
Soweto, short for South Western Townships, is the largest township in South Africa with over 2 million people where much of the struggle against Apartheid was focused and fought. It attracts many tourists who visit Nelson Mandela’s former house and places of political and social interest.

Johannesburg Highlights

The Apartheid Museum takes you from the earliest beginnings of Johannesburg when gold was discovered in 1886 to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. The photographs, narrative text and videos are a comprehensive collection of the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa and the oppression of the non European people in the country. There is also a permanent exhibition of the life of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in jail and became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Allow a minimum of 2 hours to spend here.

The Cradle of Humankind is located about 20 kms north of Johannesburg and occupies an area of 47,000 hectares. It is a World Heritage Site designated for its scientific contribution to the discovery, research and preservation of human ancestor fossils in this area and the evolution of our species, homo sapiens. It is called the Cradle of Humankind as more human ancestor fossils have been found here than anywhere else in the world. There are 13 different cave sites in the Cradle of Humankind though most people visit Sterkfontein Caves where most of the fossils of human ancestors and ancient animals were found. You are taken on a 1 hour guided tour of the caves and there is also a very informative museum here that focuses on evolution and the origin of humans. The human ancestor fossils found here like Mrs. Ples and Little Foot are dated at about 3 to 4 million years. Nearby is the Visitor Centre Maropeng where you will be taken on a journey through time and which has a large variety of interesting scientific displays on the evolution of our planet and species.

A visit to Soweto is high on the list of many visitors to Johannesburg. People are intrigued to see what it looks like in a new democracy, how poeple live here now and to visit the areas of special interest. As Nelson Mandela is such a world renowned, iconic and well respected figure, his former house in Vilakazi Street, which is now a museum, is a special attraction. In the same road is Archbishop Demond Tutu‘s house, making Vilakazi Street the only street in the world where two Nobel Laureates lived. Nearby is the Hector Pieterson Memorial which commemorates the young boy who was shot and killed in the 1976 student Soweto riots and who stands as a symbol of the struggle against apartheid. The museum depicts the struggle, especially the 1976 riots, and conditions in Soweto during the apartheid era.
Other places to see are the Regina Mundi Church where political meetings were held during the struggle and where people took refuge from police brutality during the riots and Freedom Square Memorial where 3,000 representatives of resistance organisations marched in 1955 to draw up the Freedom Charter against the repressive policies of the apartheid state.

The Origins Museum in the University of the Witwatersrand in Johanneburg has probably the finest collection of Stone Age and Iron Age artefacts in Africa. It has very informative and well laid out displays on the origin of humans and includes the fossils found in the Cradle of Humankind and other places in Africa as well as information on African cultures.

The Lion Park is located just beyond the northern edge of Johannesburg and attracts many visitors keen to get close up views of these fearsome beasts. You can also stroke lion cubs and feed giraffes from a platform. Inside the main reserve are a variety of antelope that one can see on a game drive.

The Lion and Rhino Game Reserve is located in the Cradle of Humankind, 20 kms north of Johannesburg. Predators such as lion, cheetah, wild dog and hyaena are in separately fenced areas to the main reserve where one can see a wide variety of antelope, white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, ostrich and smaller mammals and birds. There is also a main recreation area where one can see snakes, scorpions, spiders and other small animals indigenous to South Africa.

Pilanesberg National Park is located in Northwest Province, 150 kms north of Johannesburg and Pretoria. This 580 sq. km park offers the best gameviewing within easy reach of Johannesburg, a mere 2 hour drive. Apart from it’s complement of all the big game species and a diversity of flora and fauna, it’s geology adds great scenic value. It is one of the largest alkaline ring complexes in the world, the remains of an extinct volcano. The park lies in the transition zone between the dry Kalahari and the moist Lowveld vegetation of South Africa. The result is a crossover of many species of flora and fauna. Accommodation inside the Park is in Manyane and Bakgatla Camps, and Black Rhino Private Lodge. Many private lodges are found just outside the park.

Sun City is located just outside Pilanesberg National Park and comprises several hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, a movie zone, theatre, golf courses, entertainment areas, outdoor activities and shopping. Sun City attracts volumes of visitors fascinated by the variety of entertainment on offer. The Palace of the Lost City, Palace Gardens and the Valley of the Waves have more style and have more to offer than the rest of the Entertainment Complex.

The Vredefort Dome is another World Heritage Site located 150 kms south of Johannesburg. Here a massive meteorite of about 10 kms in diameter struck our planet 2 billion years ago with such force that it metamorphised the surrounding rock and affected an area of 350 kms. It might have been a contributing factor in condensing our gold reserves into reefs and causing these reefs to occur 4 kms below the surface of the ground. It is the oldest and possibly the largest known meteorite impact site in the world.

Pretoria Highlights

The Voortrekker Monument is located in a nature reserve just south of Pretoria. It was built to commemorate the Afrikaner pioneers, the Voortrekkers, who trekked from the Cape into the interior between 1836 and 1854 to escape British rule and establish their own republic.  Wall friezes depict the hardships encountered and battles fought on the Great Trek and there are many displays of Afrikaner culture during this period. Informative narrative boards compare human migrations through the ages in all parts of the world. Take a lift or walk up a narrow staircase to the top of this 40 metre granite monument for great views over Pretoria and the Magaliesberg Mountains.  Visiting the Voortrekker Monument and gaining some insight into the Afrikaner culture can add to your understanding of the complex socio-political conditions in a previously racially polarised South Africa.

The Union Buildings are located in Pretoria near the centre of the city and Church Square. They were built when South Africa became a Union in 1910 to unite the British Colonies of the  Cape and Natal with the Afrikaner Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Union Buildings house the offices of the president of South African and form the official seat of the presiding government.  There are many terraced gardens and large open lawns where thousands of people gathered to see the inuguration of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa in 1994.

The Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Centre is located 45 minutes west of Pretoria. It is a breeding centre for endangered species with special focus on cheetah and wild dog and over 800 cheetah cubs have been bred here since 1971. They do tours every day of the week where you can see a variety of animals including cheetah and wild dog and interact with cheetahs.

Many visitors are reluctant to visit Johannesburg and Pretoria because of the perception of crime. Most of the crime is not focused on tourism and incidents involving tourists would be as prevalent in any major city in the world today. Security is a top priority in most tourist establishments including recommended areas to visit. Being vigilant and heeding good advice of where to go and what to see will make your visit as safe as most big cities in the world today.

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