Be Enchanted by Gauteng’s Tapestry of Scenes and Hope
If you’re in the hot pursuit of urban atmospheres, Gauteng will captivate you. This trifling province is the burning heart of the South African state and the fiscal engine of Africa. Its epicenter is Johannesburg, the country’s largest city.
Its center is undertaking a dumbfounding rebirth and its cultural life has never been so vibrant. Once considered a place to avoid, Johannesburg is now one of the most inspirational and bang up-to-date megalopolises in the world.
For a revolution of scene, head to Pretoria, a short drive north. The country’s administrative capital is distinctly less urbane but is somewhat grander with its stately buildings, attractive museums and jacaranda-lined streets.
Gauteng also has a unique physical history that’s evident at the World Heritage–listed Cradle of Humankind. This massive valley full of caves and fossils is one of the African continent’s most important archaeological sites.
Gauteng’s southern border is the Vaal River, which separates it from the Free State. It also borders on North West to the west, Limpopo to the north, and Mpumalanga to the east. Gauteng is the only landlocked province of South Africa without a foreign border.
Most of Gauteng is on the Highveld, high-altitude grassland (circa 1,500 meters or 4,921 feet above sea level). Between Johannesburg and Pretoria there are low parallel ridges and undulating hills, some part of the Magaliesberg Mountains and the Witwatersrand. The north of the province is more subtropical, due to its lower altitude and is mostly dry savanna habitat.
The Gauteng climate is mostly consistent, with Pretoria typically two degrees warmer than Johannesburg. Gauteng does offer the perfect climate conditions with summer being warm and wind free, and winters although chilly and very cold at night, have clear skies during the day.
The mild climate in Johannesburg is never humid and is never uncomfortably hot either. Summer months average a minimum temperature of 17 degrees and a maximum of approximately 28. Only mid-winter, the months of July and August, have the coldest weather.
Winter days have been known to reach temperatures of 25 degrees but generally the winter months averages a low of 5 degrees and a maximum of 19 degrees. Pretoria experiences the same weather conditions as Johannesburg, but is the known rainfall region.
Both Johannesburg and Pretoria experience summer thunderstorms in the late afternoon. These thunderstorms are accompanied by thunder and lightning, but are very brief. Hail is usually experienced during these thundershowers and snow is almost never found within this area. Summer in this region runs from October to March.
SANRAL, a parastatal, is responsible for the maintenance, development and management of all national road networks in South Africa. SANRAL is responsible for instituting the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, which was met with a lot of opposition due to the tolling of Gauteng motorists. PUTCO, the largest commuter bus operator in South Africa, services the Gauteng area extensively.
The bus rapid transit system Rea Vaya also serves to transport people from Johannesburg’s southern neighborhoods into and around the CBD. In an interview, Parks Tau stated that by the year 2040, Johannesburg will be dominated by pedestrians and public transport as opposed to the use of private transport or informal transport, such as minibus taxis.
The OR Tambo International Airport, Rand Airport, Lanseria International Airport, Wonderboom Airport and Grand Central Airport are located in Gauteng. There is a large informal transport sector in Gauteng, consisting of thousands of minibus taxis, which many of the urban and rural population makes use of. However, it is noted that taxis are often unsafe as their drivers ignore the rules of the road and the vehicles are often not roadworthy.
Gautrain and Metrorail both services the province’s public transport sector where trains are concerned and Gautrain offers a bus service that transports commuters to and from various train stations and predetermined bus stops. Metrorail trains are considered one of the most cost-effective methods of transportation in and around Gauteng.
What to See
Smuts House Museum
JC Smuts’ home for over 40 years has been turned into an interesting museum. Surrounded by a wide verandah and shaded by trees, it has a family atmosphere and gives a vivid insight into Smuts’ life. If you’re travelling to/from Pretoria by car, it’s worth dropping in for a look. The house is signposted from both the N14 freeway (Route 28) and Route 21.
Scholar, Boer general, politician and international statesman JC Smuts was instrumental in creating the Union of South Africa, and served as prime minister from 1919 to 1924 and from 1939 to 1948.
The imposing Voortrekker Monument was constructed between 1938 and 1949 to honor the journey of the Voortrekkers, who trekked north over the coastal mountains of the Cape into the heart of the African veld. The monument is 3km south of the city and is clearly signposted from the N1 freeway. It is surrounded by a 3.40-sq-km nature reserve.
The edifice is ringed by a stone wall carved with 64 wagons in a traditional defensive laager (circle). The building itself is a huge stone cube and each corner bears the face of an Afrikaner hero. A staircase and elevator lead to the roof and a great panoramic view of Pretoria.
This stunning memorial adopts an integrated approach to South Africa’s war history and is a place of architectural imagination and collective healing. Located across the kopjie (rocky hill) from the austere Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park honors fallen South Africans in all major conflicts. Highlights include the Isivivane Garden of Remembrance; Sikhimbuto, the wall of inscribed names of fallen heroes; hapo, a museum and interpretative center focusing on Southern African history; and Mveledzo, a spiral path that cuts into the natural landscape.
Cullinan Diamond Mine
Cullinan Diamond Mine is a pretty 100-year-old village full of quaint Herbert Baker architecture. It is best explored on a sluggish, Sunday afternoon stroll. The village is home to Cullinan Diamond Mine, one of the biggest and most productive diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes in the world. It has produced three of the largest diamonds ever found. The largest, the 3106-carat Cullinan, as it was called, was 11cm by 6cm in rough form and was presented to King Edward VII. You can don a tin hat and organize a tour of the mine through Premier Diamond Tours.
Possibly the city’s most underrated museum, Liliesleaf Farm was the secret headquarters of the ANC (African National Congress) during the 1960s and reopened as a museum in June 2008. This well-organized complex tells the story of South Africa’s liberation struggle through a series of high-tech, interactive exhibits.
The Apartheid Museum illustrates the rise and fall of South Africa’s era of segregation and oppression, and is an absolute must-see. It uses film, text, audio and live accounts to provide a chilling insight into the architecture and implementation of the apartheid system, as well as inspiring stories of the struggle towards democracy. It’s invaluable in understanding the inequalities and tensions that still exist today. The museum is located 8 kilometers south of the city center, just off the M1 freeway.
Visiting the museum is an overwhelming experience; particularly distressing is a small chamber in which hang 131 nooses, representative of the 131 government opponents who were executed under antiterrorism laws.
Gauteng Travel Guide – South Africa
South Africa, Gauteng travel tips and articles