Johannesburg - Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports


Johannesburg is 1,402km (869 miles) NE of Cape Town; Pretoria is 58km (36 miles) N of Johannesburg

Johannesburg, Jo'burg, Jozi . . . Ever evolving, this vibrant city throbs to a heady, relentless beat, fueled by the paradox of its reputation as a crime hub and the tremendous sociability of its inhabitants. Jozi's diverse population is a considerably better reflection of South Africa's burgeoning hegemonic spirit than you'll encounter anywhere else in the country, with a new black aristocracy creating their own cultural stew in the clubs, bars, and restaurants in this city's more cosmopolitan areas.

But it wasn't always like this. Once rolling bushveld, the "gold capital of the world" was born when a prospector named George Harrison stumbled upon what was to become the richest gold reef in the world in 1886. Within 3 years, these nondescript highveld plains had grown into the third-biggest city in South Africa, and soon Johannesburg, or "eGoli," as it came to be known, would become the largest city south of Cairo. It took only a decade for Jo'burg's population to exceed 100,000, and by 1897 it was producing 27% of the world's gold. The speed at which it grew was due in part to the power and greed of men like Cecil Rhodes -- whose diamond mines in Kimberley provided the capital to exploit the rich gold-bearing reefs of the Witwatersrand -- and to the availability of cheap labor. Along with other "randlords," as the most powerful consortium of mining magnates was known, Rhodes founded the Chamber of Mines in 1889, which created policies regarding recruitment, wages, and working conditions. In 1893 it institutionalized the "colour bar," which ensured that black men could aspire to no more than manual labor.

By 1895, the ever-expanding mining settlement far outnumbered the original Boer settlers, who had fled here from what they felt to be the oppressive policies of the British in the Cape. Disgruntled by this secondary "invasion," Botha, president of the then South African Republic (ZAR), denied these uitlanders (foreigners) the vote and refused to develop an infrastructure to support mining activities. Four years later, the ZAR and Britain went to war, and in 1902 Britain annexed the republic. The British Empire relinquished its hold in 1910 when the Union of South Africa was proclaimed, but for the millions of black migrant laborers who toiled below the earth, working conditions remained relentlessly harsh. By 1946 more than 400,000 black people were residing in and around Jo'burg; in August that year, 70,000 African Mineworkers Union members went on strike over living and working conditions -- to no avail, despite the death of 12 men and injuries to over a thousand.

During the 1950s, Johannesburg's uniquely black urban culture was given a name. "Kwela" had its own jazzy sounds, heard in the shebeens (drinking houses) of Sophiatown, and a slick, sophisticated style, as evidenced in the pages of Drum magazine. But this was also the decade of forced removals, when thousands were dumped into the new suburbs of Soweto, and, consequently, a growth phase for the African National Congress (ANC), which in 1955 proclaimed its Freedom Charter -- the basis of the current constitution -- in what is now known as Freedom Square.

But it would be another 2 decades before the black majority revolted. On June 16, 1976, police opened fire on a peaceful student demonstration in Soweto and sparked a nationwide riot -- South Africa's black youth had declared war on apartheid. Student activism escalated during the 1980s and came to a head during the early 1990s, when political parties jostled for power after Nelson Mandela's release from prison. Some townships were reduced to utter chaos, with a mysterious "third force" (later proven to be state funded) pouring fuel on the flames. Political peace finally came with the 1994 elections, and Jo'burgers returned to their primary pursuit: making money.

For many, however, this remains an elusive goal. South Africa still has the most productive mines in the world, but the size of its gold-mining force has fallen by more than half since 1990. Industries like manufacturing, banking, IT, and media service sectors have shown more consistent growth since the fall of apartheid, but not at a rate that can absorb the sprawling city's burgeoning population. Unemployment has spawned crime that, in turn, has bred a culture of fear, and walled neighborhoods, burglar bars, security guards, and guard dogs are common sights, particularly in the northern suburbs. But Jo'burg's 119-year history is nothing if not unpredictable. Propelled by initiatives like iGoli 2002 and Blue IQ (Gauteng's multibillion-rand investment initiative), Johannesburg's inner city has, according to a 2004 report, enjoyed a huge turnaround, with the general upswing in development led by the Johannesburg Development Agency. And with the emergence of a sophisticated, wealthy black middle class, the city continues to attract entrepreneurs from all over the continent. For every person living in fear, there are a dozen more enjoying the most hip and happening city in South Africa -- given a few days, you could be one of them.

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