History of Johannesburg

Mother Earth Travel > South Africa > Johannesburg > History

The history of Gauteng has been moulded for centuries, by the very location of the province on the highland plateau of South Africa.

The Sterkfontein Valley, situated just 30km northwest of Johannesburg has yielded some of the most startling archaeological treasures of our time. Scientists working the limestone caves in 1998 discovered a lime-encrusted skeleton, which dates the presence of early humand-kind in the valley to 3,5 million years. This discovery places Gauteng at the forefront of international, palaeontological research.

Evidence of iron age smelters on the mid-Johannesburg Melville Koppies and at Lone Hill just north of Sandton, point to more recent occupation, while San rock engravings in the Magaliesberg mark the passage of these hunter gatherers 25,000 years ago.

It is not without reason that the province in which Johannesburg sits is called Gauteng - Sotho for 'Place of Gold'.

The city was named after Johan Rissik, who was the Surveyor General sent to select a site for the village, and Johannes Joubert, the mining commissioner sent to investigate the claims.

With the discovery of gold in 1886 ' an event which led to the discovery of the planet's most significant source of this precious mineral ' gold diggers, speculators and fortune hunters arrived in their droves, and soon a tented town sprawled across the dusty reef. The conglomerate of disparate people and motives was to become what is today South Africa's main commercial centre.

At the beginning of the 19th century the Witwatersrand gold mines attracted large numbers of black labourers who were housed in compounds on the mines. Company, and municipal hostels, housed migrant workers for other industries while some, such as domestic workers, resided at their places of work.

But there were also many people who were uitlanders or foreigners. Their limited voting rights, was one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War (an earth-shattering clash between British imperialism and Afrikaaner nationalism).

It was not just the war of the white person ' many black people were employed by the British. The Boers, too, employed blacks.

The Johannesburg Fort ' a prison for a good part of the late 1900s ' was surrendered to the English during the Anglo Boer War. The Fort was the only major, military structure built in Johannesburg by the Transvaal Republic. It was designed to control, not protect, the rebellious mining town ' and was surrendered without a shot being fired. The battlements offer commanding views of the city and its gold mines, which caused the War.

As social and political tensions increased in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, a new breed of leader emerged, and it was at this time that people like Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela equipped themselves with academic qualifications.

In 1955, at a conference in Kliptown near Johannesburg, the ANC's Freedom Charter was signed and ratified by the Congress of the People.

Milestones during this period of history are numerous ' the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Albert Luthuli brought international recognition and sympathy for the struggle against apartheid.

The Rivonia Trial, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and finally, the student uprising in Soweto in 1976, marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. After all, Gauteng ' both Johannesburg and Soweto - was at the very cutting edge of the revolution against apartheid.

Soweto (originally an acronym for South Western Townships adjacent to Johannesburg) which comprises a number of townships, developed into a city as a result of a policy of territorial and political segregation. It has now developed from a mere geographical concept into an equally vibrant city and an experiential feast for the visitor.

Johannesburg today reflects the new South African order, and a society of which the people are justly proud.