Loud, brash and rich, Johannesburg has long been both the bane and lifeblood of South Africa. Since its sudden birth in 1886 when a hapless Aussie discovered gold on the Highveld, it has dominated the country, morphing from a rough frontier town into a financial metropolis with a good deal of debauchery still imbedded in its fabric. Built on a high plateau surrounded by the world’s richest gold mines, Johannesburg dominates Gauteng. The high-rise city centre is surrounded by some 600 suburbs: to the north lie the realms of the wealthy and white, while in the southwest is the vast township of Soweto. Although the city has suffered from much-publicized high crime rates, it is now dusting off its dodgy reputation and drawing back visitors for the first time in over a decade. Crime-busting regeneration programmes have seen areas like run-down Newtown transformed and filled with restaurants and shops, while recent additions include some of South Africa’s finest cutting-edge museums, including the Apartheid Museum. The northern suburbs are an enclave of posh boutiques, good restaurants and sophisticated nightlife, while Soweto now attracts more tourists than Kruger National Park.
Fifty kilometres to the north is the recently renamed capital of the state, Tshwane (Pretoria). Although connected by an almost unbroken ribbon of development, the two cities couldn’t be more different. Tshwane (Pretoria) is staid and conservative, with wide streets lined with jacaranda trees which bloom a ladylike purple in spring. The centre feels peaceful and orderly, with attractive sandstone buildings and large, tidy parks. Tshwane (Pretoria) has long been a centre of Afrikanerdom, best summed up by the sombre Voortrekker Monument. But its conservative feel has mellowed of late, with a lively student population and the influx of a multilingual diplomatic community.
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