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 GAUTENG - PLACE OF GOLD

Gauteng covers just over 17 000sq km - approximately 1.4% of the total land surface of South Africa. It is the smallest of the nine provinces. Despite its size, Gauteng is home to approximately 8 million people.

In the seSotho languages 'Gauteng' means 'Place of Gold', which is appropriate as the province has its economic and historic roots in the thriving gold industry that was sparked off by the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in 1886.

The province has a highly developed transport and communications infrastructure, excellent financial institutions and a well-serviced urban environment. Although it is highly urbanised, there are also several natural tourist attractions. A significant portion of South Africa's past is manifested in the province where sites such as the Union Buildings, the Voortrekker Monument and more recently, the Newton Cultural Precinct in Johannesburg, document the country's rich cultural and historic heritage.

Places of interest

Past and present splendour

In central Johannesburg, ultra-modern buildings rub shoulders with Victorian architecture dating back to the gold rush days. The frenetic activity of the formal trade sector in the Central Business District co-exists harmoniously with specially zoned informal and emerging trading sectors.

Immediately north of the city, the affluent suburb of Parktown boasts a number of stylish mansions built by the "Randlords" the Victorian founders of the South African mining corporations. Until recently the early mine single-sex hostels, where migrant mineworkers lived while working hundreds of kilometres from their families- could still be seen within 5 km of Central Johannesburg. Other aspects of Johannesburg's mining past can be seen at Gold Reef City, a fully operational theme park about 6 km south of the city. Visitors can go down a mineshaft to watch the underground workings, see moulted gold being poured into ingots, or watch African Traditional dancing - which used to be one of the few recreational outlets from mineworkers in their barrack-like quarters.

Soweto,  south of Johannesburg, is the historical site where on 16 June 1976, the actions of disenchanted youth reignited the flame of mass resistance to apartheid. A permanent exhibition documenting the uprising can be seen at the Hector Petersen Memorial - in commemoration of the first victim who died there. Former President Nelson Mandela's Orlando West home has been turned into a museum. Commercial tours to Soweto are on offer. Most give visitors an opportunity to have a drink and meal in Soweto, usually in one of the local pubs, known as shebeens.

In contrast to Johannesburg, which grew haphazardly, central Pretoria has expanded around the old Church Square, whose original buildings, the Raadsaal (Council Chamber) and Palace of Justice, have been well preserved. Other excellent examples of early Pretoria architecture are Melrose House, the Sammy Marks Square and the Mirriammen Hindu Temple.

Up on the hills north of the city are the Unions Buildings, the headquarters of President Thabo Mbeki's government. Designed by the renowned local architecture Sir Herbert Baker and constructed in honey-coloured sandstone, the Union Buildings rest gracefully on the highest of several brightly flowering terraces.

From these terraces, on a hill across the city, the massive Voortrekker Monument is visible, built by the Boers (white settlers) in the mid 1800s.

The Sterkfontein Caves, west of Johannesburg, has yielded several important palaeontological finds. The caves, consists of a great subterranean lake and six large connected chambers. The Gauteng Provincial Government is in the process of applying for the area to be declared a World Heritage Site.

Zoos, snake parks and aquariums

The National Zoological gardens, or the Pretoria Zoo, is regarded as one of the best zoos in the world and is visited by about one million people annually. It covers an area of about 60 ha and has breeding centres in rural areas of the Northern and North West provinces. It is the only African member of the American Zoo Association and the International Union of Directors of Zoological gardens and Aquariums.

The neighbouring Aquarium and Reptile park is the largest inland aquarium in Africa. It has the continent's largest collection of fresh water fish and it is also the only aquarium in South Africa to keep a large variety of marine fish in artificial sea water. Its specially prized exhibits are the King Penguins and rare African dwarf crocodiles. In all, it has about 4 500 specimens of 285 fish species and about 300 specimens of 72 reptile species.

The Johannesburg Zoological Gardens has close to 1 900 specimens representing about 300 species. The animals live in open air enclosures, separated from visitors by dry or water filled moats. The gorilla complex is especially well regarded and the zoo includes a pachyderm section as well as one for large carnivores.

The Transvaal Snakepark is at Midrand between Pretoria and Johannesburg, and it houses up to 150 species of snake, reptile and amphibians.

The Hartebeespoort Dam Snake and Animal Park, in a pretty setting outside Pretoria, has a fine reptile collection.

Museums

Gauteng boasts more than 60 museums (more than any other province) which serve as revealing windows on a rich natural and cultural heritage. There are museums of natural history, geology, archaeology, photography, mining, crime and policing and cultural history. Many historic buildings, pioneer dwellings and stately Victorian homestead, also serve as museums and provide a glimpse of life in the second half of the 19th century.

Johannesburg's Newtown Cultural Precinct accommodates some of the most dynamic museums. Chief among them is Museum Africa, which first opened its doors to the public in 1994. Part of Johannesburg's first fresh produce market, it was converted into the now 11 000 square metre museum. Museum Africa is unique in South Africa for its bold attempt to tell the story of life from the Stone Age to the Nuclear Age and beyond.

Also in the Newtown Precinct are the South African Breweries Museums, which looks at a century of beer making and the Worker's Library, where the exhibitions relate to the lives and the struggles of the working people of the country are displayed.

Entertainment

Gauteng's cities and townships cater for lively nightlife activities. These range from nightclubs, shebeens and discos to opera, ballet, contemporary dance and classical concerts. A wide spectrum of Live theatre is easily accessible.

Theatre venues include the imposing State Theatre complex in Pretoria, the more vibrant Johannesburg Civic Theatre complex and the Market Theatre, renowned for its use of drama as a weapon against apartheid. Athol Fugard, honoured internationally as one of the finest English-language playwrights, is associated strongly with the Market Theatre.

Contemporary dance has proved particularly fruitful ground for cross-cultural creativity. There are a number of exciting small dance companies in Gauteng performing locally choreographed work

The MTN Sundome, in Northgate and Vodacom's Vodaworld Centre in Midrand have sprung up as the entertainment venues of the future. The Sundome, the largest structure of its kind in the southern hemisphere, can seat up to 20 000 people and can be reinvented to suit anything from ballet, drama, ice shows or rock concerts. It is also home to the new Tsogo Sun Casino.

Jazz has long held a special place in South African culture. Johanesburg boasts some of the best Jazz spots, Kippies in the Newtown precint and the Bassline in Melville, north of the city. Good jazz can also to be found in clubs, pubs or shebeens throughout the city.

Restaurants in Gauteng cater for all tastes and budgets. Traditional African foods such as samp and dumplings are served at only a handful of "township-style" restaurants such as Wandi's Place in Dube, Ekhaya in Yeoville and Iyavaya in Rosebank: this mouthwatering cuisine has tourists and locals coming back for more. Gauteng has a large Portuguese community and many good Portuguese restaurants, like Callisto's south of Johannesburg. The Carnivore, about thirty minutes outside of Johannesburg, specialises in local game and may offer anything from ostrich to crocodile on the menu. The oriental plaza, a few minutes from the Newtown precinct, offers a wide selection of eastern cuisine.

Shopping

The province is a shopper's paradise with shopping centres in literally all corners of Gauteng.

The central business area of Johannesburg, like many other cities has a street crime problem and visitors are advised to take precautions. They should use credit cards and traveller's cheques for shopping and entertainment expenses so that they do not carry large amounts of cash.

The Sandton and Rosebank malls as well as the Randburg Waterfront remain popular shopping destinations - with the best of local and foreign goods, a modern and sophisticated atmosphere as well as secure, ample parking, they make for a pleasant shopping experience.

Banks are sprinkled amply across the province and are open Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 15:30 and Saturday from 9:00 to 11:00. 

Automatic teller machines are situated outside most banks, and in shopping centres everywhere for easy access to financial services such as withdrawing or depositing money. 

Hours of trading vary, but are normally: Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 17:00; Saturday from 8:00 to 17:00 in the bigger shopping centres and from 8:00 to 13:00 elsewhere; and Sunday from 9:00 to 13:00.

Arts and crafts

The Johannesburg Art Gallery, adjoining Joubert Park in the inner City, has a varied and interesting collection of European art, South African art in the European tradition, and truly indigenous African art. Pretoria has a municipal gallery in the suburb of Arcadia. There are numerous private galleries, particularly in Johannesburg, which exhibit contemporarily foreign artists and promote many local painters, sculptors and photographers. In recent years there has been an explosion in the volume of quality craft work available in Gauteng. Artists of this province have created more than 20 'studio routes', which make it easy for the public to view the work of potters, painters, sculptors, wavers, metalsmiths and other artists in their studios and workshops.

Gauteng has also become a major outlet for crafts from many African countries. In every craft market and flea market, shoppers are guaranteed to find an array of fabrics, carvings, masks, beadwork, basketwork and other crafts from the rest of Africa. The Mai Mai Bazaar, in the Johannesburg CBD, offers an ethnic experience rich in African culture. Its traders include traditional healers or sangomas. Among the busiest craft and flea markets are Johannesburg's Rosebank Market, open on Sundays and the Bruma Lake Market, open six days a week.

Leisure and recreation

The National Hiking Way System comprises 17 hiking trails with overnight facilities and several walks for those who want something less challenging.

Overnight huts are usually equipped with bunks and foam mattresses, cooking utensils, firewood, latrines and basic bathing facilities. Hikers need to carry their own food, sleeping bags, clothes and personal effects. No guides, cooks or bearers are available. Many additional hiking opportunities exist, including trails and walks for the visually handicapped and people in wheelchairs. In some cases, braille maps and taped commentary are provided.

The Vaal Dam system in the south of Gauteng has a number of boat clubs and offers the most extensive water sport opportunities in the province. Several other dams are suitable for sailing and boating, while dams in some urban parks are used for rowing and canoeing.

 

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