Gauteng, meaning “place of gold” in SeSotho, is the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces, but it has the largest population and is the economic hub of the country. The capital of the province, Johannesburg (or “Jozi” as it is called by locals), owes its existence to the discovery of rich gold deposits in the region. The main reef was discovered by an Australian prospector, George Harrison (no relation of the Beatle), in 1886. After this, the population and economic activity mushroomed.
However, the history of this part of South Africa doesn’t start with the discovery of gold. The Sterkfontein Caves, near Krugersdorp in Gauteng, forms part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and shows that humankind originated in Africa. Here scientists have found “Mrs Ples” – an australopithecine of between 2,8 and 2,6 million years old. The interactive exhibition at the Maropeng Centre is fascinating – something enjoyed by young and old.
Nearby Magaliesberg is not only the oldest mountain range in the world (2,5 billion years old), but it offers many opportunities for adrenalin-junkies to enjoy the outdoors. One of the must-do’s while you are here, is the Magaliesberg Canopy Tour. Here, a number of wooden platforms, connected by means of steel cables, were built in Ysterhout Kloof. You are safely connected to the cables and can then zip-slide from one platform to the other, enjoying the scenery below. If this is not your cup of tea, visit the Blaauwbank Gold Mine, where quartzite gold was discovered in 1874 – long before Harrison’s discovery of the main reef. You will be taken through the mine by experienced guides, where you will be able to see all the primitive equipment used in those days. The Magaliesberg is also home to 300 bird species, and you will be able to spot anything from a Cape vulture to migratory birds such as stork and paradise flycatcher.
Jozi is a melting pot of many cultures and you are bound to hear many languages being spoken on the streets. Besides many shopping opportunities, the city offers many splendid restaurants. Suburbs such as Melville, Parkhurst and Parkwood are renowned for cuisine from many corners of the world. Apart from the obvious fun rides, the Goldreef City Theme Park offers a very interesting programme telling the history of the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in a very innovative way. Visitors can go down a mineshaft, try their hand at gold panning and witness gold being poured. The Absa Money Museum in downtown Jozi recounts almost 4500 years of “money history” – from salt, cowrie shells, Venetian glass beads and gold coins to internet and cell phone banking.
Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa. During October the city shows why it is nicknamed the “Jacaranda City”, when thousands of jacaranda trees lining the streets are covered with purple blossoms. Visit the imposing Union Buildings on Meintjieskop , the official seat of the government of South Africa. The iconic Voortrekker Monument commemorates the “Great Trek” of 1834, when the Voortrekker pioneers moved to the north to escape British rule. Many interesting activities are presented at the Monument. Fort Schanskop is one of the forts built by the ZAR to protect Pretoria from foreign invasion. It now houses an interesting military museum.
Towards the east of Pretoria you will find Cullinan, where the world’s largest rough diamond was found in 1905. The diamond was cut by the Aascher brothers of Amsterdam. Apparently Joseph Aascher feinted with relief when the initial cleaving went without any hitches. The Star of Africa (530,20 carats) is the largest of nine diamonds cut from the original rough one and forms part of Britain’s Crown Jewels. Towards the northwest of Pretoria is Tswaing Crater, where a gigantic meteorite smashed into the Earth about 220 000 years ago. The resulting crater is 1,4 km in diameter, 200 m deep, and is one of only four impact craters in the world with a museum. Tswaing means “place of salt”, because salt used to be mined from the lake in the crater.
Your visit to Gauteng would be incomplete if you don’t include Soweto (acronym for South Western Township). Not only did this vibrant township host the kick-off match in Africa’s first World Cup Soccer event of 2010 in the unique calabash-shaped Soccer City Stadium, but it also hosts the Apartheid Museum, the Mandela Family Museum in Vilakazi Street (where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived) and the Hector Pieterson Memorial (erected where the 1976 protests started). Also visit the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village. Although a bit dilapidated, it still reflects traditional healer Credo Mutwa’s fascinating take on the clash of African culture and folklore with Western society. It is said that one of his paintings, dating from 1979, predicted the events of 11 September 2001. Leave time for a lip-smacking meal at Nambitha, a restaurant in Vilakazi Street that serves traditional and international cuisine.