Home>> Destinations>> South Africa>> Johannesburg

Johannesburg, or Jo'burg, Egoli ("City of Gold"), or Jozi, as it is affectionately known by Jo'burgers, is the commercial heart of South Africa. Historically it is where money is made and fortunes found. It has been stereotyped as a cruel, concrete jungle, plagued by crime, but residents defend it fiercely as a city of opportunity and raw energy, the capital of "Can Do!"

Ask a jol (lively party) of Jo'burgers what they love about their home town and this is what you might hear: Highveld thunderstorms; Pirates vs Chiefs derby (the Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs are South Africa's most loved—and hated—football teams); the most cosmopolitan city in Africa; spectacular sunsets; jacaranda blooms carpeting the city in purple in October and November; great climate; the smell of jasmine in spring; open-air Sunday concerts at Emmarentia Dam; the fast-paced lifestyle and the can-do attitude of its people; the rich history; host city for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

But Johannesburg may be best known for gold. The city sits at the centre of a vast urban industrial complex that covers most of the province of Gauteng (the g is pronounced like the ch in Chanukah), which means "Place Where the Gold Is" in the Sotho language and is home to the world's deepest gold mines (more than 3.9 km [2.4 mi] deep). More than 100 years ago it was just a rocky piece of unwanted Highveld land. But in 1886 an Australian, George Harrison, officially discovered gold, catapulting Johannesburg into a modern metropolis that still powers the country's economy and produces nearly 20% of its wealth (though gold mining has been winding down in recent years).

With a population of more than 8 million—including outlying areas such as Soweto, Lenasia, and the West Rand—Jo'burg is a fairly big city by world standards (not much smaller in population than New York and Tokyo) and is by far the country's largest city. Despite its industrial past, Jozi remains a green city, with more than 10 million trees and many beautiful parks and nature reserves, which is all the more exceptional considering it is one of the few major cities in the world not built near a significant water source.

In the late 1980s many of central Johannesburg's big businesses fled north from crime and urban decay to the suburb of Sandton, now an upmarket commercial hub in its own right. But lately local government and business have been reinvesting in the inner city, particularly with an eye to the 2010 World Cup. The beautiful Nelson Mandela Bridge, which spans the railway tracks close to the Newtown Cultural Precinct, has been decorated with wonderful street sculpture. The streets in downtown Johannesburg have been beautified and renamed to reflect the country's cultural diversity: Miriam Makeba Street (formerly Bezuidenhout Street) is next to Dolly Rathebe Street, named for two of South Africa's jazz legends.

In addition, local government has invested in an extensive new public transport system that will serve the local working population (to be completed in mid-2010). This includes the Gautrain rapid rail system that will connect Johannesburg with Pretoria and the O. R. Tambo International Airport, moving Jo'burg steadily toward its goal of being—as the city council is eager to brand it—"a world-class African city."