Johannesburg History

History of Johannesburg, the economic capital of sub-Saharan Africa, currently attracts immigrants from all over Africa, eager to earn money in the alleged city of gold

Johannesburg, to all intent and purposes the economic capital of South Africa and indeed even sub-Saharan Africa, arose from a dusty and underdeveloped mining town to become a metropolis attracting score of immigrants from northern african countries to find work in the city colloqually known as eGoli, the City of Gold.

The city is straddled in the middle of South Africa, no harbour or seafrontage to provide wealth, as is the case with other major metropolitan centres in the country, Durban or Cape Town. That Johannesburg became what it is today is testament to the gold rush in the region towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Having initially discovered gold in the nearby Eastern regions of Barberton and the area now known as Pilgrims Rest in the 1880's, prospectors soon discovered that even richer pickings were to be had on the Witwatersrand region which now incorporates Johannesburg and the Vaal Triangle.

The town was initially much the same as any small prospecting settlement, but as word spread, people flocked to the area from all other regions of the country as well as from North America, the UK and Europe. As the value of control of the land increased, tensions developed between the Afrikaaners, who controlled the region during the nineteenth century and the English, culminating in the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The Boers lost the war and control of this province, known as Transvaal, to the English.

When the British declared South Africa a Union in 1910, this paved the way for a more organised mining structure. The South African government instituted a harsh racial system whereby blacks and indians were heavily taxed, barred from holding skilled jobs and consequently forced to work as migrant labour on Johannesburg's growing crop of goldmines.

The South African government then instituted a system of forced removals, moving the black and coloured population into specified areas.

It is this system that created the sprawling shantyland of Soweto (South West Township) where blacks were forced to live in cramped, undernourished existence, only being allowed into "white" areas to acquire menial work.

It is in Soweto that Nelson Mandela, for one, spent many years and his Soweto home in Orlando is currently a major tourist attraction in Soweto.

On the opposite side of the scale, Sophiatown during the early years of the twentieth century was a vibrant centre in which many races lived alongside each other in relative calm.

The National Party government changed that with its policy of Apartheid, forcibly removing residents in favour of a Whites Only policy and renaming the area "Triomf" (literally meaning "Triumph").

Throughout Johannesburg, one finds evidence of this dislocation and many monuments attest to the bitter racial struggles that characterised the city.

Mahatma Gandhi's house in Johannesburg has since become a monument and the Museum Africa in the Newtown area pays testament to the turbulent history of the city.

In nearby Diagonal Street, one finds the heart of the sub-Saharan African economy as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange resides over streets of squalor in a glossy, blue testament to the wealth traded within.

One the worst legacies of apartheid, manifested in the sky-high crime rate in Johannesburg, is a disrespect for the law. Hillbrow, an area on the North-East of Johannesburg has transformed from a bohemian neighbourhood during the 1970's to the de facto residence of prostitutes and drug dealers. Tourists are often intimidated by Johannesburg's daily incidences of violent crime. This is a pity when foreigners choose not to visit a city that encapsulates better than any other South African city the undeclared war against the people of the country as instituted by the National Party government, lasting from 1948 to the 1990.

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