Close to the ground.

Gauteng, pronounced (how-teng), means “place of gold” in Sotho. The province, which was cut out from the old Transvaal province and newly formed in 1994, includes two of South Africa’s major cities, Johannesburg and Pretoria. While Gauteng is, geographically, the smallest of South Africa’s provinces, it has more people and is growing faster than any other. It accounts for nearly 40 percent of South Africa’s GDP and its provincial capital, Johannesburg, has a busteling city center and expansive sprawl of suburbs and townships encompasing some of the countries best restaurants, music and nightlife. The country’s administrative capital, Pretoria is quiet and has a more relaxed feel than its neighboring metropolis. Together these two cities form the region’s economic, political, educational and transportation hub for both South Africa and southern Africa.


Gauteng is known as the “cradle of human kind.” Discoveries of hominid remains in a string of caves in the northwest part of the province - most notably the 1947 discovery in the Sterkfontein Caves of a 2.3-million-year-old fossilized skull affectionately known as Mrs. Ples - mark the region as one of the first places where humans began to walk upright; the area has subsequently been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For over 100,000 years, early San hunter-gatherers inhabited the region, until Bantu-speaking Sotho-Tswana migrants from the north introduced farming and livestock. Their evolved mining and smelting techniques ushered in the Early Iron Age. Today, ruins of Sotho-Tswana villages can still be found around Johannesburg, southern Africa’s wealthiest and largest metropolis. The area has been rife with conflict for almost as long as it's been inhabited. In the early 1800s, the area was briefly settled by descendents of the Khumalo clan, led by their Chief Mzilikazi. Shaka Zulu's warring kingdom had scattered many of the local Sotho and Tswana inhabitants as it advanced in the east and Mzilikazi defected from Zulu's army and crossed the Drakensburg mountains with his followers to escape the grasp of Shaka’s rule. The Khumalo, renamed the Ndebele (meaning “refugee” in Sotho) took control of the area near the Vaal River in the 1830s. But their rule of the region was short-lived. Boer frontiersmen, or “Voortrekkers,” distanced themselves from the control of the British Cape Colony and attacked the Ndebele from the south and west, while far-reaching Zulu forces attacked from the east. By 1840, many of the Ndebele had fled north of the Limpopo River, into what today is Zimbabwe.

The Voortrekkers settled into the area in a dispersed network of small farms and villages. In 1856, they declared an independent republic, the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), which stretched from the Vaal River in the south to the Limpopo River in the north and later became known as the Transvaal. Their capital was Pretoria, named after the Boer settler and war hero, Andries Pretorius. Frontier wars against African chiefdoms resisting colonial rule nearly bankrupted the young republic and in 1877 the British colonial empire annexed the ZAR. Three years later the Boers reasserted their indpendence in the First Anglo-Boer War from 1880-1881.

The region largely remained sparsely settled farm country until the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand in 1886. The subsequent gold rush brought prospectors from other parts of the country, Europe, and North America, and the small triangle of farm land transformed into the country’s wealthiest and largest city. Johannesburg’s population boomed and in less than a decade the population had reached roughly 100,000. The influx of uitlanders (foreigners) and wealthy British mine owners, called Randlords, undermined the Boer’s already tenuous control of the republic, which they tried to reinstate through a series of laws that controlled the movement of black Africans in the region, imposed high taxes for miners, and restricted voting rights to only the Boer population.

In the face of rising resentment and fearing a British take over of the ZAR, the Boers launched a preemptive strike in 1899. The war that ensued has both been called the Second Anglo-Boer War as well as the South African War, fought between the Boer government in the ZAR and its neighboring Orange Free State and the British Empire. British war tactics devastated the Boers. Their scorched-earth techniques and the internment of Boer women and children and black Africans in concentration camps led to some 50,000 deaths. The war ended in 1902 with the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging. The ZAR was annexed by the British Empire and the region was renamed the Transvaal.

In 1910, the Transvaal became one of the original provinces of the newly formed Union of South Africa. The ruling British government quickly began to expand mining activities around Johannesburg (attracting blacks and poor whites from the countryside into the surrounding shantytowns) and invested large sums of money into the construction of grandiose government buildings in their new capital city of Pretoria. Low wages and poor working conditions in the mines led to the Rand Revolt of 1922, a white mine worker uprising in which 200 people died. Feeling the discontent of their white population in the growing metropolitan areas, the government passed a series of laws to ensure white superiority, thus tightening urban segregation and restricting the movement of coloured and black populations to cities.

Wartime manufacturing during WWII added to the 1930s industrialization of the country, and contributed to the growth of the black upper and middle classes, who during the war, had stepped into jobs previously reserved for the white population. The post-war white backlash against the growing affluence of the black population led to the election of the National Party in 1948, and the capital of Pretoria developed as the center of the Apartheid state. By the mid-twentieth century, Apartheid was entrenched. “Separate and unequal” policies of racial segregation restricted the movement and aspirations of black and coloured South Africans. Black residents were displaced from their homes in the city centers and confined to townships or government-sanctioned African homelands or “bantustans.” For the next 46 years, Pretoria held the reputation as a beacon of Apartheid South Africa, while Johannesburg would emerge as the battleground of black resistance and opposition.

Townships in the Transvaal, particularly the South Western Townships (Soweto) of Johannesburg became central to the black liberation movement. The declaration of the Freedom Charter in Soweto in 1955 by representatives of the ANC and other black activists led to the rise of black organized opposition by the end of the 1950s, culminating in the massacre of roughly 70 protesters in Sharpeville in 1960. The government clampdown that followed banned the ANC, and their more militant offshoot, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The black liberation movement was forced to go underground, many of its leaders either arrested and imprisoned or exiled. A year later, in 1961, South Africa withdrew from the British Commonwealth of Nations and became the Republic of South Africa.

As the second generation of township residents came of age, the 1970s saw a renewal in the struggle for black liberation. Soweto proved to be the forefront of violent clashes between the black population and state security forces. In June, 1976, police opened fire on student protesters demonstrating against the imposition of Afrikaans (considered the language of the oppressor) as a language of instruction in black secondary schools. Street battles continued in Soweto and violent protest spread across the rest of the country for over a year. Pictures of the uprising and violent state oppression exported from the country turned international opinion of the South African regime. Black militancy continued throughout the following decade, leading to regular declarations of a state of emergency. By the end of the 1980s President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to dismantle Apartheid. In 1990, political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were released from prison.

In 1993, the Convention for the Democratic South Africa (Codesa) was held in Kempton Park, where negotiations took place for what would become the first draft of the South African Constitution. A year later the first-ever democratic, non-racial elections were held in the country and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President in Pretoria’s Union Building. As part of a plan to repeal some of the legacy of oppression and Apartheid, the provinces were restructured. The former Transvaal was split into what is currently Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, part of the North West province and a small section of KwaZulu-Natal. (Gauteng was initially named Pretoria-Witswatersrand- Vereening, or PWV, and did not receive its present name until the end of 1994.)


GPS: S 26 12.088 E 028 02.729
pop. 3,200,000 | elevation 1,767m/5,797 ft

Johannesburg (also known as Joburg, Jozi, and Egoli) is an amazing melting pot of a city. It is full of rich history, has an incredible art and cultural scene, and its nightlife rivals that of any other major city in the world. Unfortunately, the city has a bad rap for being a crime hotspot, and too often, it’s either passed over by visitors or used as only a place to stay when coming from or going to the airport. Don’t let the fear of the potential dangers of Joburg prevent you from having an experience that very well may round off the highlights of your trip – the vast majority of visitors who spend time in the city leave without encountering any problems.

If you come to South Africa and pass up on Joburg and its surrounding area, you will leave with an incomplete understanding of the country. To understand South Africa you need to feel Joburg – see the city center, get to Melville, go out in Newtown and spend at least a day in neighboring Soweto.

Around Johannesburg


Soweto (short for South Western Townships) is South Africa’s largest township. It is historically characterized by poor individuals living in corrugated, tin shanty-style shacks amidst various levels of crime. However, today Soweto is home to people from all levels of the socio-economic range and most of the city is quite safe. While it is becoming a tourist destination in itself, too many visitors spend days only 30 minutes away in Joburg and miss out on experiencing Soweto and learning about the role it played in the anti-Apartheid struggle. If you are limited in time, a day tour is a great way to see the city, but spending a night or two allows for more time to interact with locals and experience more of the rich culture and history that Soweto has to offer.


GPS: S 25 44.761 E 028 11.228
pop. 2,350,000 | elevation 1,336m/4,383 ft

Pretoria is commonly referred to as the Jacaranda City because of the purple-blossomed jacaranda trees lining many of the streets. As the nation’s administrative capital, its many tall sandstone buildings house government offices, a variety of museums and historical attractions. While a bit sterile in comparison to neighboring Joburg, its size, ease of navigation, relative safety and proximity to Joburg and nearby attractions make it a pleasant location to visit. Pretoria has a strong Afrikaner flavor where the English language takes a back seat to the much more prevalently spoken Afrikaans.

Around Pretoria