Johannesburg is the most populous city in South Africa and the third most populous city in Africa. It is after Cairo, Egypt, and Lagos, Nigeria, which is the capital of the province of Gauteng, the richest province in Africa.
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One of the youngest of the world’s major cities, Johannesburg was founded in 1886, following the discovery of gold.
The people of Johannesburg
About three quarters of Johannesburg citizens are black, less than a fifth are white, and most of the rest are colored or Asian / Indian. Such figures, however, hardly do justice to the city’s polyglot population.
At least a dozen different languages are in widespread daily use in Johannesburg. Most of the white population is of English and Afrikaans descent, but the city also includes important Portuguese, Greek, Italian, Russian, Polish and Lebanese communities.
The black population includes representatives of every ethnic and linguistic group of southern Africa. All the major religions of the world are represented, although most of the people, both white and black, are Christian.
Commerce and industry
Johannesburg is a mining, manufacturing, and financial centre. The city is home to all of the mining companies, as well as the Chamber of Mines, which supervises the sector.
From textiles to specialized steels, local manufacturers in Johannesburg and the East Rand create a wide range of products.
Johannesburg boasts a rich, if strangely schizophrenic, cultural life. Patrons of the arts can take in a performance of the National Symphony Orchestra.
They can retire to one of the city’s thriving jazz clubs to hear internationally acclaimed local performers, returned to Johannesburg after long years in exile.
History of Johannesburg
The early period, 1853–1930
Johannesburg’s early history is the story of gold. In 1853 Pieter Jacob Marais, a South African prospector, recovered alluvial gold from the Jukskei River, north of what become Johannesburg.
The years that followed brought several modest strikes. The Witwatersrand Main Reef eluded searchers until 1886, when George Harrison, an Australian prospector, chanced upon an outcropping on farm. The farm is Langlaagte.
Ironically, Harrison failed to appreciate the significance of his find. he sold his claim for £10 and embarked for the goldfields of the eastern Transvaal region.
Others were more farsighted. By mid-1886 an army of diggers descended on the Witwatersrand, hacking away with picks and shovels along a line that soon stretched 40 miles west to east.
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The government of Transvaal, the small Boer republic under whose jurisdiction the Witwatersrand fell, sent two men. These men are Vice President Christiaan Johannes Joubert and Deputy Inspector General Johann Rissik. Their duties are to inspect the goldfields and identify a suitable site. The new city was called Johannesburg, apparently in their honor.
As the scale of gold deposits became apparent, Johannesburg became the last major boom city of the 19th century. However, fortune hunters from as far away as Australia and California joined experienced miners from Cornwall and Wales.
This has also brought a strong trade union tradition to South Africa.
Indigent Afrikaners, driven from their rural homes by debt and drought, have clustered in slums like Brickfields and Vrededorp.
Blacks from all corners of the South African subcontinent migrated to the city, often in large ethnic cohorts.
Most blacks worked in the mines, completing six- and nine-month contracts before returning to their rural homes. Others settled permanently in the expanding city, carving out niches as rickshaw drivers, domestic workers and launderers. By 1896 Johannesburg had become a city of 100,000 people.