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GAUTENG REGION

South Africa's smallest province, located high on the central plateau, is an economic powerhouse: it accounts for around half the country's gross domestic output and is home to a fifth of its people.

Dominating the region is Johannesburg, the City of Gold founded a little more than a century ago when a couple of itinerant prospectors stumbled, literally stumbled, on the world's richest store of the yellow metal.

Neither man made any money from the discovery, but others did - vast fortunes - and the mining camp quickly grew into a town and then into a great, bustling city girded around by ugly, towering yellow mine-dumps. Mining operations have since shifted outwards, following the fabulous reef to the east and west, but the dumps are still there, though they are now clothed in thin coats of greenery and a lot easier on the eye.

Other elements have also moved away. Until fairly recently Johannesburg's central area was the sophisticated hub of financial, commercial and social life but, with the collapse of apartheid and the advent of the new, free South Africa, informal traders took over the streets, and many of the shops, offices and hotels migrated to the suburbs. The area now has a quite different look and feel: less conventional (and less safe for visiting strollers), more vibrant, more colourful, more African. There are plans to restore order and decorum into what is perceived as urban decay, but these are probably too ambitious.

Johannesburg proper is encircled by a ring of what were once separate centres, some of them large and industrial, most of them dormitory municipalities.

  • They include upmarket and fast-expanding Sandton in the north, Randburg, Roodepoort, Edenvale, Germiston, Alberton, Bedfordview,
  • jam-packed Alexandra and,
  • king of what used to be called the 'black townships', the city-within-a-city of Soweto.
  • Beyond these is an outer ring of towns - Krugersdorp, Randfontein, Westonaria and Lenasia to the west,
  • Tembisa, Kempton Park, Benoni, Boksburg, Germiston, Alberton and Katlehong to the east.
  • The whole vast conurbation - inner and outer rings - is known as the Witwatersrand, which is the name of the low 'ridge of white waters' that overlays the main gold-bearing seam.
  • The area is also referred to as 'the Rand' and sometimes, just to confuse visitors, as 'the Reef'.

Some 60 kilometres to the north of Johannesburg lies Pretoria, the country's handsome, tree-lined capital and a metropolis that, visually, has few peers when its lovely, lilac-coloured jacarandas bloom in springtime.

There isn't in fact much open space between the two places: the intervening, rather bleak veld is rapidly being covered by the brand-new city of Midrand.

On the other, southern side of Johannesburg, close to the lazily flowing waters of the Vaal River, is a scatter of smokestack towns, prominent among them Evaton, Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark. Approximately 85 percent of Gauteng's population of 7 million is urbanized.

Pretoria is a good-looking city and Johannesburg is surprisingly well endowed with parks and public gardens (in fact it ranks among the world's most densely treed metropolitan areas), but all in all Gauteng is more for the business visitor than the tourist.

It does, though, serve as a comfortable base from which to explore the northern regions and their game sanctuaries, and it does have some very real attractions of its own -

  • fine hotels,
  • restaurants and shopping malls,
  • lively nightspots,
  • museums,
  • the full range of arts venues,
  • extraordinarily friendly people,
  • and a wonderful climate.


At 2000 metres above sea level the air is rare and heady; highveld winters are sunny, seldom cold by day (though nights and early mornings can be freezing); summers are comfortably warm, the heat invariably tempered by welcome late-afternoon thunderstorms and by the high altitude.

 

Benoni
Carletonville
Johannesburg
Magaliesburg
Mamelodi
Midrand
Pretoria
Soweto
Springs
Vereeniging

         
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