Johannesburg was born as a mining camp back in 1886 when an unemployed local miner discovered the first gold deposits in the South African province of Gauteng or the ‘Place of Gold’. While nobody had any idea at the time, his find was to lead to the discovery of the richest gold fields in the world and the development of one of the world’s major cities - the largest in South Africa.
As with the gold rush in America, the mines in and around Johannesburg attracted hopefuls from all over as the city became the ‘Gold Capital of the World’. But as well as those from around the globe, hundreds of thousands of members of the unemployed black population from around South Africa made their way to the city in search of their fortune. Numerous townships grew up around Johannesburg but so too did poverty and overcrowding. By the 1960s a combination of the two as well as the country’s much hated apartheid legislation led to the first riots which ultimately resulted in the country’s civil war.
As a result of the racial segregation which lasted for almost half a century – 1948 to 1994 – stark contrasts are visible throughout the city. From structures on a par with those in any of the world’s leading cities to the squalor of the shantytowns which don’t even have electricity or running water, Johannesburg certainly offers a look at how powerful South Africa’s apartheid actually was. In this case, it helped shape an entire city, cause a civil war and resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.
But, the news is not all bad. Today Johannesburg is the largest city in the country and also serves as its financial and commercial centre. As well as this two of the original fourteen mines are still in operation and many businesses have grown up in the vicinity including several mining companies and banking institutions. Finally, Johannesburg also serves as a gateway for both international and national travel and tourism. So, while there are vast differences between the different social groups who live there, things are looking up for future generations of Johannesburg residents.