Jo’burg: South Africa’s Pulsing Heart
Johannesburg, Jo’burg, Egoli or simply Jozi – whatever you call it nobody can deny that it is the pulsing heart of South Africa. The place has come a long way since 1886, when an Australian miner came across a lump of gold and triggered a gold rush, leading to the founding of what today is the sprawling mass of Johannesburg. In the meantime fortunes have been won and lost and imperial wars have been fought, the scars of which are still healing today, and the city has a newfound sense of self-confidence and hope.
If cultural history is your thing there are few places to beat than Jo’burg. Here rich and poor, black and white live cheek by jowl, with grand fenced suburbs nestling against sprawling townships. The most well-known of these is of course Soweto, where up to four million people are squeezed into an area that became a potent symbol of the old South Africa. Nowadays Soweto is forging a new identity as a dynamic expression of hope for the future emerging from its troubled past.
The city itself, like many boom towns, has grown chaotically over the years. In the centre order reigns supreme and streets are laid out on a grid system, but the further out one goes from the centre the more sprawling it becomes. There is a thriving music and nightlife scene going on, as well as many sporting events, with the locals being passionate about cricket and rugby.
Downtown Jo’burg bristles with skyscrapers and it’s here that anything approaching a frenetic pace takes place. There is a multitude of places to eat across the city ranging from the upmarket mall-based eateries of the northern suburbs to township shacks where you can sample the local delight ‘smiley’ (cooked sheep’s head) or the down to earth dish mealie pap (maize stew).
Covering more than 2,500 square kilometres, Johannesburg is undeniably large and the best way to get around it is by car. For the most part its inhabitants are a friendly and laid back bunch but there is an element of truth behind the headlines for which the city is known and it pays to get good local advice. But Jo’burg exists to be enjoyed and the best advice is to get out there and explore it for yourself.