JOBURG’S early settlers unwittingly shaped the future of Africa’s monetary powerhouse when they brought along with them an assortment of cultures, traditions and socio-economic backgrounds, giving Johannesburg a multi-ethnic makeup which can still be seen today.
In fact, Johannesburg is renowned for its cosmopolitan nature, its vibrancy and buoyant aura, a melting pot of all sorts and a place called a home away from home by many of its residents.
October marks 125 years since the first residential area was laid out in the gold rush town.
Marshalltown in the city centre, today a district of concrete and glass office blocks, was Joburg’s first residential area, named after Scotsman Henry Brown Marshall who commissioned a plan to build it in September 1886. The plan was laid out in October 1886, between Commissioner, Troye, Ferreira, Albert and Cornelius streets.
The Scottish names given to several Johannesburg suburbs and some streets are attributed to Marshall, a prominent pioneer at the time, and auctioneer Richard Currie.
In the first quarter of that same year, gold had been discovered on the Witwatersrand, luring multitudes of fortune seekers from across the globe to the tent town that would become Johannesburg.
Mapping and land surveyors of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republijk, Johannes Meyer and Johannes Rissik, were sent to map the town, and history has it Johannesburg was named for their shared first names. There are, however, other theories about where the name Johannesburg originates.
Johannesburg was only promulgated as a city in 1928 and inner city streets like Rissik, Harrison, Commissioner and others pay homage to individuals who played a role in establishing the town.
At the time of the discovery of gold, the diamond rush in Kimberley was losing steam, and diamond prospectors began flocking to Johannesburg. Their arrival brought commerce to the area, with new shops sprouting and corrugated iron houses erected almost overnight.
In the twinkle of an eye, Johannesburg became a fully fledged town with pubs, office blocks, houses and eateries. The business sector also experienced rapid growth, resulting in the establishment of the stock exchange.
Soon, Joburg’s tents, and wood and iron shacks were replaced by brick and mortar structures. In less than three years of the discovery of gold, Johannesburg had become the largest town in South Africa with a population of more than 100 000. Over 630 000 ounces of gold had been mined by the end of 1889 and more than 75 000 workers were employed on the reef.
One-and-a-quarter centuries later, Johannesburg is a concrete jungle and the world’s largest urban manmade forest. It is affectionately called Jozi, Joburg or Egoli. It is a bustling metropolis, South Africa’s leading hub of commerce, industry and finance.
Its municipal boundaries are dotted with financial and business sectors, lifestyle and leisure retreats, retail and wholesale traders, community and social services, manufacturing, agriculture and construction, spanning 1 645 square kilometres. It has an estimated population of over 3 million.
As South Africa’s economic powerhouse, Johannesburg contributes 16 percent to the country’s annual gross domestic product and about 40 percent to Gauteng’s economic activity. Its inner city is the largest employment centre in the country.
But what does the image of Johannesburg conjure up? There are a number of things that give it the edge, one being the ingenuity of its people, who contribute to the city’s multi-ethnic fabric and always strive for excellence.
In fringe towns, Joburg is revered for its ability to make or break any ambition and it is recognised as a place where dreams can come true or simply fall apart.
But Johannesburg hasn’t only grown in size and built environment, or even population. In recent years, a lot has been done to develop the city and align it with international counterparts like New York, Paris and Sao Palo.
Because of decades of racial segregation, Joburg’s spatial design was comprehensively divided into south and north, with the north being greened and monied, and the south being the neglected dormitory for lower income workers. It was plagued with imbalance, and had a number of municipal administrations.
However, in recent years its prospects have drastically changed. Disparate municipalities have been brought under one umbrella, with one billing system. Many socio-economic disparities are being overturned, jobs have been created, there are economic opportunities open to all and, in some areas, sustainable human settlements have replaced uninhabitable shacks.
Most of the streets are tarred and there is extensive provision of basic services, a far cry from the Joburg of the past. A city which was divided by racial lines, now affords everyone equal opportunities.
More Joburgers than ever before have equal access to basic services; yet the city still remains largely a place of haves and the have-nots.
Johannesburg was also a prominent host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the first time the tournament was held in Africa. It helped generate national pride, boost tourism revenue and alter international perceptions about the country. Joburg, which hosted the opening and closing matches, was recorded as the most visited city during the tournament.
Several Joburg stadiums served as training venues and the city was also a venue for some of the preliminary round and one of the quarter-final matches.
Grant Thornton, the independent accounting and consulting firm, working with figures from SA Tourism as well as its own research, found that some 350 000 foreigners visited South Africa during the World Cup, spending around R8-billion, with a total economic impact of around R18-billion.
Joburg experienced a surge in direct infrastructure investment with the building and upgrading of stadiums, enhanced public transport and road upgrades, improvements at points of entry, upgraded telecommunications infrastructure and improved security systems.
All World Cup-related improvements have since underpinned economic and tourism growth and have provided long-term, valuable assets to communities that have benefited. According to SA Tourism, the real success of the World Cup was investment in tourism infrastructure, economic growth and job creation and in enhancing South Africa’s reputation abroad.
This year, a new mayor ushered in a new five-year term, bringing with him a partially new political and executive administration, including a new City manager. When the 41-year-old Parks Tau was inaugurated as the executive mayor of Johannesburg on 26 May, succeeding Amos Masondo, as the 94th mayor of the 125-year-old Joburg, a new era beckoned.
In a 30-minute acceptance speech, Tau said his tenure would be characterised by the pursuit of a more equitable and spatially integrated city. Joburgers should expect his administration to address issues of social exclusion and underdevelopment, he explained.
And after just under three months of office, he undertook a major public participation process spanning nine weeks and culminating in the amended Growth and Development Strategy, Joburg 2040, designed to take the city forward over the next 30 years.
When taking up the reins as City manager on 1 October, the new head of administration and accounting, Trevor Fowler, said he began his five-year term of office resolute about stabilising Joburg’s finances, resolving billing issues and improving governance and service delivery.
Ever since the discovery of gold 125 years ago, Joburg has been growing, and today people still leave their rural villages in their droves to seek opportunity in the city born out of the dry, sprawling highveld.