South Africa's Gauteng Province
In September 2013, I went on an organized three week-long tour to South Africa that exposed me to not only my most in-depth international experience, but also to other cultures through fellow travelers in our group. I was introduced to new ways of life that seemed refreshing. The trip changed me in ways I never expected, but am thankful for. The Gauteng Province was the first area of this diverse country I experienced, and it really is worth visiting firsthand.
Gauteng: A blending of cultures
Gauteng is a tiny province, essentially one big city, slightly smaller than New Jersey. While small, it contributes a large amount (more than 33%) to the national economy. Although it was built on the wealth of gold, the economy has diversified from just gold mining and has expanded into finance and manufacturing.
One thing I noticed was how many languages you hear walking along the street, from English, German and French to Mandarin, Swahili and more. There really is a blending of cultures. It is also home to the Cradle of Humankind, one of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage sites, and one of the world’s richest concentrations of hominid fossils.
Johannesburg, also known as Joburg, is the biggest city in South Africa, and is often compared to Los Angeles, CA in terms of size and sprawl. For any trip I do, I always say "Explore. Immerse yourself in the culture. Talk to locals. Dive into the history and traditions'. And, I did just that on my trip to Joburg.
From galleries, museums and the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, to nearby wildlife safaris and sightseeing tours, there really is something for everyone. If you’re interested in Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and father of modern South Africa, be sure to visit the many places of unique historical significance.
Suggested things to do in Johannesburg
- Go on a guided city tour + talk with locals
- Walk around Rosebank Mall, one of South Africa’s leading shopping and entertainment complexes that blends the magic of Africa with the elegance of Europe
- Explore to one of the many art galleries and museums
- Check out FNB Stadium, located in Nasrec, south of Johannesburg
- It has been the center of historic events, including the first speech from former President Nelson Mandela in 1990, the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the continental Africa Cup of Nations final and the memorial service tribute to Mandela in 2013.
- Tour Houghton, Johannesburg’s northern wealthy suburb, where Mandela lived
- As we drove through the neighborhood our guide drove slowly by the house he currently lived at so we could take a few pictures (weren’t allowed to stop). I remember lots of security and paparazzi lined up waiting down the block. When he passed away and footage was shown, it was a weird feeling to be able to say I was right there a few months ago when he was still alive inside the beautiful home.
- Visit Constitution Hill, the site of Old Fort Prison Complex where thousands of people were brutally punished. Many of South Africa’s political activists (Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu) were detained here. Once a place of injustice and brutality, today it is a place of solidarity.
Although it is outside Joburg, Soweto (a cluster of townships) is a melting pot of South African urban culture and definitely worth a visit.
Things to do in Soweto
- Go on a guided tour through the township
- The growth in Soweto is phenomenal, but there are still many living in the lowest class
- Visit Regina Mundi Church, the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa
- It was a place of gathering for the people of Soweto in the years before, during, and after the anti-apartheid struggle, it is often referred to as “the people’s church”
- Don’t miss the art gallery upstairs, which has powerful photographs and history along with messages visitors have left from all over the world (both my mom and I signed a wall)
- See Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, that commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid.
South Africa really is a beautiful, diverse country and I highly recommend visiting, starting with Johannesburg. Happy travels!