The History
of Johannesburg



A lot of history has happened in Johannesburg through eons of time, both interesting and complex!
I’m busy with a detailed version which I'll add to this, but for the meantime, here's a quicker read!

The short version!

Johannesburg is today, still a mining camp!

The original layout, with narrow roads and small city blocks, is a result of a belief that like all gold rushes, this one would be over soon!
How wrong they were!

The city arose from the dusty veld, stranded in the centre of the country, with no river or seafront to assist in the development of trade.

Despite this, it is today Africa’s powerhouse and the economic capital of South Africa!

History was written when gold was discovered in 1886 by George Harrison, an Australian prospector, and on 20 September, when President Paul Kruger proclaimed the findings open for public digging, Johannesburg was “founded”.

The land at the time was governed by the Afrikaner, but that all changed when the wealth became apparent!

The Jameson Raid, which was an attempt by British supporters to overthrow the Boer government in late 1895 and early 1896 ended in failure, but this was a forerunner to greater hostilities.

On 11 October 1899, the Anglo Boer War broke out when British forces attempted to take the land, but met stiff opposition from the Boer Republics of the Orange Free State (Oranje-Vrijstaat Republiek) and Transvaal (ZAR).

The British Commander, Lord Kitchener, destroyed Boer farms under his Scorched Earth policy and forcibly interned women, children, servants and labourers - resulting in thousands of deaths, in concentration camps.

The Boer soldiers, who wrote their own page of history, when they became the first people to use guerilla warfare, surrendered by May 1902, and the Province, known as the Transvaal, fell under English control.

South Africa was declared a Union in 1910, which resulted in a more structured mining industry, but also resulted in harsh racial divides being implemented - divides that 38 years later would give birth to Apartheid and rewrite the history books.

Blacks and Indians were unfairly taxed, excluded from skilled jobs and forced to work as migrant labour on the increasing number of Johannesburg goldmines.

To further apply the racial segregation, the South African government instituted a system of forced removals, and moved non whites into specific areas.

It was this policy that created the sprawling shantytown of South West Township - Soweto.

The township had a very basic infrastructure, and residents were forced to live here, but allowed into "white" areas to seek menial work.
Nelson Mandela lived for many years at 8115 Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, his home in Soweto.

Although gold-mining formed the backbone of Johannesburg’s economy, it was manufacturing that really bolstered the city’s growth into what it is today.

Despite the entrenchment of Apartheid in the 1960’s, the increased need for labour to feed the manufacturing industry, coupled with the increasing demand for jobs from people flocking to the city, saw huge numbers make their homes in informal settlements.

Protests and large-scale violence, supposedly against Afrikaans which was regarded as the language of the oppressor, finally flared in 1976.

This violence continued, and spread, in various forms, until in Febraury 1990, when the Nationalist Government finally did a U-turn, and abandoned Apartheid.

Democratic elections were held in 1994, and Soweto and other black townships, have been integrated into the system of municipal government.

Jo’burg is slowly adapting to its new life, and although crime is still high in certain parts, it’s not as prevalent as it was.

Gold mining no longer takes place in the confines of the city, and the mine dumps, which are monuments of pale-yellow mountains of waste gold bearing ore, are being reprocessed.

Sadly tourists are often intimidated by Johannesburg's perception of high crime, and miss exploring a city that, better than any other in South Africa, encapsulates the terrible injustices declared against the blacks between 1948 and 1990.

It’s also a city whose people continue to, probably more than most, relish in their new found freedom.
















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