Johannesburg – Historical Capital

We had planned to go to Johannesburg for a family break. After spending four weeks on the roads, in campsites or at couch surfers, our family stop was more than required. We needed to rest but also to learn more about South Africa.

Now we will try to recreate the best story about what we felt during our visit in this great city.


We went to the cousins, Ashleigh and Guy, in their beautiful home and received a warm welcome. After 5 hours’ drive from Durban on Saturday we finally got to Johannesburg and were welcomed with beers and a braai (south African barbecue), a typical weekend in a South African family. We quickly felt at home and had a perfect first night.

In each city, you can discover a new lifestyle. In Johannesburg, also called Joburg or J, the main activity is shopping, at every corner of the street there is a large shopping center. We spent our first day at “Monte Casino”, a big center that looks like no other. The whole complex is a representation of Italy! With a ceiling painted with the colors of the sky, an architecture looking like an Italian neighborhoods and typical decorations, you feel in the streets of Italy. It feels like you’re on vacation under a blue sky, when you are inside a shopping center.



We were able to walk among the shops, restaurants, cinema, arcade games and in front of the magnificent casino. We then went to the bird sanctuary and reptile of the outer part of the center. The park collects more than 60 species. We had the chance to discover some of them during a bird-flying show where eagles, vultures, pelicans and South Africa’s iconic bird, the “Blue Crane”, were present.


Blue Crane

Le Black Mamba – The most aggressive and fast snake in the world. Very venomous, he can reach 4.5 meters and stands up to one third of his body. It is widespread in South Africa, it is the most feared snake by locals.
Apartheid Museum

The first thing we wanted to do in Joburg was to learn more about the history of the country through the Apartheid museum. Here is what we learned:

Reminder: Apartheid in Afrikaans means “separation”. In 1948 the National Party implemented this policy of separating individuals according to their nationality and racial status. Black people have been set apart and discriminated against. Several laws have been put into place:

– The blacks were placed in the slums and only the whites could live in the city.

– Black people were not allowed to walk in the streets after sunset

– They had to walk with a pass (the police could control them in the day to see if they had the right to work and to be in this neighborhood, otherwise, otherwise they would be sent to  prison)

– Blacks did not have the right to vote

– There was a segregation for public places: buses, toilets, benches, fountains, hospitals, universities for whites and others for blacks.

– The marriage mix was forbidden: whites and blacks were not allowed to unite

Many other rules governed the lives of coloured people and forced them to live a constrained and difficult life.

Upon entering the museum, we dive into the history of apartheid. When we bought our tickets, we each got assigned a skin color specified on the ticket, on Noes’ it was written “Non White” and on Angies’ one was written “White”. We then went to the access gate of the museum and we each had a different entrance, separated by barriers. Straight from the entrance you can discover all the old object and processes which they used to separate the people according to their colour.


After this fun time, we met again for the rest of the visit. We discover a film about the South African history of the country, the city and the beginnings of Apartheid. Then we got to the  Nelson Mandela part of the museum. We learnt about his childhood, his life as an activist and his presidency.

Rolihlahla (name given by his father) Mandela, was born in 1918 in the village of Mzezo. In his tribe, his first name was Madiba. At the time, one of the rituals in schools was to choose a name for each student. It was on the first day of school that the teacher attributed the name Nelson to Mandela. He was then known as Nelson Madiba Mandela.

He exceled at school, learnt boxing, running, and studied in a law school. In 1943 he joined the ANC (a political party that defends the black majority against the white minority, declared illegal in 1960) and began the fight against racial segregation with several major events. It was in 1962 that Mandela was arrested for treason and imprisoned in Johannesburg prison. In 1964 he was found guilty and sentenced to a life imprisonment at the Robben Island Prison (a small island off Cape Town) where he had spent 18 years (he was then transferred to different prisons).

In 1990, De Klerk was elected president and released Mandela after more than 27 years of incarceration. Mandela then declares his commitment to peace and reconciliation. In 1991 the beginning of the abolition of apartheid started. Mandela was elected president in 1994 at the age of 77 and the apartheid was finally dissolved. He then began a national reconciliation using economic reconstruction, international politics and worked for the reintegration of black people in their social lives. He built new homes in the slum for families, created community centers (RDP as we discovered in Hermanus) and also proceeded to the reintegration through sport, with Rugby. He had an ongoing procedure against racial domination, for example he will condemn black people for making racist remarks about the Indian minority, and many other acts.
In 1999 Mandela retired from the presidency. His in entire life he had received a large number of awards (ambassador of planetary consciousness, Nobel Peace Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom …). He then started to be be very ill (prostate cancer in 2001, pulmonary infection in 2013) and died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.

Nelson Mandela has become a global icon and a hope for humanity through his fight for peace that he succeeds with a great humility.

This museum taught us what the people experienced during the apartheid era.  We learnt the tragic, poignant and triumphant history of the country. We also realized the difficulties for the non white people at this time but also of their fight for the liberation. We realized that this situation of racial segregation was not so old and that it was still present 24 years ago …

Discovering Joburg

To discover a little bit more about the history of Joburg, we decided to take a tour on one of these famous red bus for tourists. Perched on the roof, the bus allows us to visit and listen to information about the city. At first we were a little sceptical about this very touristic activity  but we did not regret our choice as we learned a lot (200 rand: 13 € per person).

During his tour, the bus goes through several stops, you can choose where you want to stop and take another bus at the end of one of the visits.

We picked up our red bus at the “Constitution Hill” stop which is actually a former prison and military fort. Several great characters from history have been imprisoned here including Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. Nowadays it is the Constitutional Court of the country.

Our first stop was the Carlton Center, Africa’s highest skyscraper. We took the elevator to the 50th floor named “Top of Africa” ​​to admire a panoramic view of the city.

Then we obviously made a stopover at the World of Beer to taste some beers. We chose to taste 2 beers per person (we did not visit the brewery), a little disappointed by the choice of different beers, we then picked up the bus for the last stop “The Grove” which allows us to walk in the city, in the district of Braamfontein. We tried some shops but we soon felt an oppressive atmosphere. The stores have electrical gate in front of each entrance and we must ring and wait for the seller to open. The most surprising was Mac Donald, who had a security guard and large bars on the cash counter. Some streets seemed a bit unsafe specially for two tourists. So we picked up our bus an hour later to return to the starting point and go for a rest after this rewarding day.

Ghandi Square

We learned a lot during our tour:

  • 132 years ago the city did not exist, Johannesburg will be founded in 1886 only after the discovery of gold on the territory.
  • The city is located on the largest gold reef in the country. It is then called the gold city, or the modern eldorado
  • Today it is the largest city in South Africa (with 957 441 inhabitants) and the richest in Africa.
  • It is the only big City in the world that is not to located on a source (river, sea) but also the only one to be so high in altitude (about 1800 meters above the sea level)
  • The largest slum in the country is Soweto, situated in the southwest of Johannesburg The mining dunes were used to divide the white neighborhoods with Soweto
  • Ghandi lived in Johannesburg where he pledged against the persecution of the non-whites

Back to nature

After our tourist stops to understand  better the country that welcomes us, we wanted to do sport and nature excursion. An 8km hike through a nature reserve. We went to Africa Land. When we arrived we met two other Belgian tourists and the manager who explained us the hike itinerary  to perform while promising us a good beer on arrival.

What surprised us the most during our walk, was the diversity of the place. We started with a savannah landscape, to a rocky site, to a dense forest, to bamboos where you had to stoop to pass or walk along a river.

We were able to cross the way of several animals which made the moment even more magical and intense, the most incredible were:

  • A spitting cobra from Mozambique: a snake that spits its venom up to 2.5 meters to its predator, targeting the eyes. Its venom is neurotoxic, and it can kill a human in 5-10 hours. It can measure up to 1m50 long.
  • Two “legavon” of 1m50 (steppe monitor lizards): monitor lizards are large lizards, this one is the largest monitor of Africa up to 2 meters for 14kg.
  • Two Nyalas: large and majestic types of cattle. They have a zebra coat, have two big horns, can measure up to 1m95 for 120kg, can jumps 2 meters high and run at 48 km / h. A unique moment to see them frolicking in nature.

The beginning of the course was incredible, but halfway through the hike under an intense sun and climbing  rocks, we begian to have trouble with the heat. But we are brave and after two hours we arrived to the finish line in a small historic house. As promised the manager offered us one beer, then two, then three… But on top of that, he made us homemade burgers. We stayed all the five of us for three hours talking on the terrace. He explains that we are in a historical place, for example, the table on which we drank our beer is the one on which the official language, Afrikaans was created. He told us about animals in the area, sometimes one of the leopards in the area come in this garden, a wonderful moment.

And here was a busy week! We decided to leave the big city to head east in the province of Mpamalanga for a very wild tour!


One Reply to “Johannesburg – Historical Capital”

  1. Hi there!

    It’s Marie and Michael from Belgium! It was great meeting you guys! Hope you had a lot of fun at Kruger!
    We’re already looking forward to our next trip to Africa and will folow your adventures in Africa! Have fun!


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