The larger Johannesburg Metropolitan Area is also known as the Witwatersrand (“Ridge of White Waters”). It is this area in which the main gold reserves, the lifeblood of the province, are found. More than 5 million people live in an area no more than 60 km in diameter and any destination in the province can be reached within three hours from this area. The skyline is outlined by skyscrapers, mine dumps from the gold mines and smoking chimneys, testimony to the changes that economic progress brought to the land.
If South Africa is a “World in One Country”, then Johannesburg Metro is a “Country in One City”. A sprawling metropolis, Johannesburg encompasses many suburbs and urban developments. Although these developments are so close together that they seem to be one, they are indeed cities in their own right. These cities are Alexandra, Johannesburg, Randburg, Sandton and Soweto.
The discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand had such a significant impact upon the economic development of South Africa that the country’s unit of currency, the Rand, was named after it.
When gold was discovered, all eyes turned to this small area and many people came here, believing that they could make their fortunes. As more and more miners came to the area, a town grew to meet their needs and, in time, the city of Johannesburg rose from the gold dust. Politics would play an increasingly important role in shaping the destiny of the people who came to call this place home. The Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 was fought between the Boer Republics who did not want to give up their independence and the British who wanted to unite South Africa under the British umbrella again. On 31 May 1902, a peace treaty was signed and although the Afrikaners lost, the conditions of the treaty were favourable to them.
The formation of the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910 led to government policies reserving certain privileges for one population group and it was only a matter of time before the growing black populations in the townships realised that not only were they not benefiting from South Africa’s natural riches, but they were being relegated to the status of second class citizens.
As time progressed, the Nationalists made more laws that benefited the white population and restricted the rights of other race groups. Black people had no say in the running of the country and leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo and many other heroes of the struggle organised the black population to protest against the unfair political system. Protests and actions followed and townships such as Soweto and Alexandra were at the centre of the fray.
In June 1955 at Kliptown, near Johannesburg, the ANC’s Freedom Charter was signed and ratified. This sparked a new tide of organised black resistance, a long struggle which eventually led to the first democratic elections in 1994.
History has left its mark on the area and there are many physical reminders of the events of the past. In the Johannesburg Metropolitan Area the past and the present merge into a cosmopolitan, modern society where all people may find a spiritual home.