Johannesburg

It is a very modern city by African standards but it does not hold many attractions for tourists. Sights in Johannesburg include the new Museum Africa which offers an honest and self-critical look at the nations sometimes troubled past and the Market Theater Complex which houses theaters and a Saturday flea market.

History buffs will be interested in the Smuts Library at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) where South African statesman Jan Smuts book collection is preserved. The university Gubbins Library has an extensive collection of books on Africa.

Negotiate with a taxi driver to give you an impromptu tour through Joburgs neighborhoodshell take you past some large and impressive mansions hidden behind imposing security (home security is big business in South Africa). Yeoville was a funky neighborhood but today it has deteriorated along the lines of the former hip nightspot Hillbrow and is, in honesty, a bit of a pit.

Tours are easily arranged in Johannesburg for those interested in visiting the black suburb of Soweto (the name is an abbreviation of Southwestern Townships). The tours begin with the ultramodern township hospital and continue through all types of neighborhoods ranging from shanty towns and workers hostels to the modern home of Nelson Mandela (he lived there for only a short while upon his release from prison). The tour also includes Mandelas earlier and more humble home where he lived when he was arrested more than 30 years ago. For us the most striking sight was a functioning high school with every single window broken. It was surrounded by razor-wire fences. Also consider visiting Oriental Plaza, a shopping complex, where the majority of shop owners are South African Indians (much of the wares have Indian connections).

Excursions include a half-day trip to see the fossils at Sterkfontein Caves (a half-hour drive from town the site itself takes several hours to tour). Gold Reef City (part of what was once Crown Mines, one of many mines in and around Johannesburg) is more like a theme park than a mine tour: it features a museum ride on a vintage steam train and performances by African tribal dancers. There are several working gold mines to visit near Johannesburg, including Welkom, Evander, Carletonville, Klerksdorp and Orkney. However, to visit these mines prior permission is needed write months in advance. (Satour will help arrange such visits. Be aware that many mines do not allow anyone under age 16.)

There are also several game reserves and breeding stations within a half-day drive, such as the De Wildt Cheetah Research and Breeding Station and the Crocodile Farm. If youre going to be in Johannesburg on a Sunday consider a visit to the Heia Safari Ranch 24 mi/38 km from town where tribal dancers performit provides a good introduction to the country if Johannesburg is your first stop. An alternative to the ranch is South Ndebele Village: an interesting Botshabelo tribe open-air museum that shows how tribes used to live.

As goes for most big cities, crime is not an uncommon thing in Joburg. Keep your valuable belongings at a safe spot, so you dont have to worry about them. The Johannesburg International Airport is located just east of Johannesburg. Because of the crime situation in Johannesburg hotels in Sandton (a suburb of Johannesburg, about 25 kilometres north of the city centre) or near the airport are recommended for un-escorted visitors on their first night in the country.

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