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15 Facts about Johannesburg, the City of Gold

Updated on April 22, 2014
Johannesburg | Source

Johannesburg is the metropolis of South Africa and the economic heart of the country. Johannesburg dominates the Witwatersrand, or Rand, the world's richest gold-mining area. Sometimes known by its Zulu name, Igoli ("City of Gold"), Johannesburg is the capital of Gauteng province, formerly part of Transvaal. It has a population of 3,225,810 (2001 census).

1. The largest city in South Africa, Johannesburg is one of the world's few major cities not located on a river or harbor.

2. After the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, a village was established on the site of Johannesburg within the year. As the gold boom developed, the settlement grew at a phenomenal rate, reaching a population of 100,000 by the beginning of the 20th century. In 1928 it was made a city.

Downtown Johannesburg
Downtown Johannesburg | Source

3. Johannesburg is situated on the High Veld plateau, on the southern slope of the Witwatersrand, a watershed ridge between the Limpopo and Vaal river systems. With an elevation of 5,751 feet (1,753 meters), the city enjoys an attractive climate.

4. The average daily temperature in Johannesburg is 59.9° F (15.5° C), with an annual range of 17.8° F (9.9° C). Johannesburg receives an average of nine hours of sunshine a day and just over 30 inches (750 mm) of rainfall a year.

5. The central part of Johannesburg is laid out in a rather severe gridiron plan. The area around Eloff Street constitutes the main shopping and entertainment district. The city center has a beautiful public library, a prestigious art gallery, several museums of interest, and an active civic theater. To the north is the zoological garden and to the east the internationally important astronomical observatory. In addition, there are many facilities for sports events and recreational activities.

University of the Witwatersrand
University of the Witwatersrand | Source

6. Johannesburg has two universities. The University of the Witwatersrand provides instruction for English-speaking students, and Rand Afrikaans University serves those students who speak Afrikaans. The Technikon Witwatersrand specializes in business and engineering. Among the city's cultural institutions are the Johannesburg Art Gallery and Museum Africa.

7. During apartheid Johannesburg complied with the government's policy on racial separation, maintaining separate residential areas for the four major elements of the metropolitan population -whites, blacks, Coloureds, and Asians. Empty buffer zones separated white and nonwhite areas.

8. The whites (16%) -including most of the foreign born, of German, Dutch, Swiss, or other European origin- speak English or Afrikaans. Most are Christians of various denominations, but there is a significant minority of Jews. The black population (73%) contains representatives of all the major black ethnic groups in South Africa, speaking Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Pedi, and many other languages. A majority of the blacks speak English or Afrikaans as well, and belong to Christian churches. The Coloureds (6%), of mixed race, speak English, Afrikaans, or both, and generally are Christians. The Asians (4%) derive mainly from the Indian subcontinent but also include Chinese. Various languages and religions are represented in this group.


9. As Johannesburg developed and blacks migrated to the area looking for work, shantytowns grew up around the urban core. Under the apartheid system these were replaced with black townships, which generally were planned communities developed with government funds to house the increasing number of blacks. Private ownership was permitted, but most units were under subsidized rental agreements. Frequently, the provision of residential, educational, medical, and recreational facilities did not keep pace with the growth of population, thus engendering widespread frustration and contributing to occasional violence.

10. The best-known black residential area was Soweto (South-Western Townships), which was 15 miles (25 km) southwest of central Johannesburg. By the 1990s it housed about 1,000,000 people, who occupied either single-family units or dormitory-like quarters for bachelors as well as for married men whose families lived elsewhere. Nearly half of the residential structures consisted of a single room.

11. After the 1940s the major production of gold shifted from the original mining areas to the far west Rand, Klerksdorp, and the Free State. Johannesburg continued to grow because of the intense concentration of manufacturing industries in the Witwatersrand.

12. The city lies midway between iron and steel centers and adjacent to the best farming belt in South Africa. Besides metallurgy and food processing, the Johannesburg area has important machinery, electrical, chemical, textile, construction, and printing industries.

13. Johannesburg is the hub of the South African business world. Major banks and business corporations are headquartered in the city or maintain offices there. The Johannesburg stock exchange is the only one in the country. The city is also the headquarters of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Newspapers and periodicals in several languages are published in Johannesburg, and there is a flourishing book publishing industry.

14. Johannesburg is the center of South Africa's transportation systems. Roads and railroads radiate from the city in every direction, and Johannesburg International Airport just outside the city is the country's major port of entry.

15. In the early 1990s the laws restricting the flow of migrants into the city and enforcing the racial segregation of residential areas were scrapped. In 2000 the surrounding municipalities were incorporated into the "unicity" of Johannesburg. De facto residential segregation persisted, however, although the population of the inner city shifted from predominantly white to black. The flow of migrants into the city quickened from rural South Africa, from neighboring countries, and increasingly from more distant parts of the continent. As the economy opened once again to the outside world and competition increased, many local corporations laid off workers to reduce their production costs, worsening an already serious unemployment problem.

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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I am South African and have lived there for most of my life until my move to Europe over eleven years ago. I miss my lifestyle and family this hub made me think even more of my lovely country. Interesting facts!