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Johannesburg (Jo’burg or Jozi to the locals) is South Africa’s largest urban space and the economic powerhouse of sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a vibrant, pulsating city, which has worked hard to reinvent itself.
With improved security in recent years, visitors are now discovering a beautiful city centre dominated by Victorian and Edwardian colonial architecture, as well as a thicket of chrome and glass skyscrapers.
Packed with art galleries and museums, inner city suburbs such as Newtown and Braamfontein have plenty of cultural treats in store too, while the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene now means you can eat as well in Johannesburg as you can in say London or New York.
But for all that, inequality remains, most notably as you travel between upmarket neighbourhoods such as Rosebank, with its gated mansions and legion guards, into the townships. Of these, the most famous remains Soweto, an area that made its name during the anti-apartheid uprisings of the 1970s.
Despite his death in 2014, the presence of Nelson Mandela (Madiba as locals still call him) looms large. Although more middle class than other townships, Soweto remains a buzzing, vibrant place with much of the action happening on and around Vilakazi Street. Close by is Orlando West where you’ll find Mandela’s former home, which is now a museum dedicated to South Africa’s favourite son.
More memories of Mandela are to be found in the excellent Apartheid Museum, which is crammed with artefacts and photos that tell the story of one of the most turbulent parts of South Africa’s history. The same can be said of the South African National Museum of Military History, which tells the same story, albeit from a very different viewpoint.
Although synonymous with apartheid, Johannesburg is also famous for its diamonds and for being the starting point for many a safari. Indeed, you don’t even have to leave the city to get a taste of the latter thanks to the presence of the Lion Park. More authentic is the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, a short drive from Jo’burg, which alongside game offers spectacular views over the veld.