While it may not be the capital city of South Africa, Johannesburg is popular for being the City of Gold (thanks to the gold rush many years ago). Even today, Johannesburg is a hustle and bustle of business activity, with thousands of travellers visiting for business, leisure, sport and culture! Here’s a brief look at the awesome things to do in Johannesburg!
Constitution Hill’s Grim History
Before Constitutional Hill opened its doors as a museum in 2004, the precinct housed a collection of notorious prisons which included the Old Fort, a high-security prison built in the 1890s to house prisoners of war during the Anglo-Boer Wars (1899-1902), the Number Four prison block, a so-called “Native Prison”, and the Women’s Gaol.
During the apartheid era the prison complex became a detention centre for political dissidents, striking mineworkers, those deemed “anti-establishment” and those who simply violated the inhuman pass laws of the time.
Many ordinary and famous people were incarcerated here during its years as a prison including former president Nelson Mandela and passive resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi, who were both imprisoned for their pro-democracy activism.
In the old prison blocks visitors can learn more about South Africa’s difficult path towards freedom and democracy from the extensive permanent museum exhibitions that include personal testimonies from former prisoners and warders and installations. There are also a number of guided tours of the complex which give further insight into the the significance of this heritage landmark and a small cafe called The Hill is open for refreshments once you have finished exploring.
Carlton Centre’s Scenic Views
The Carlton Centre complex was once home to the five-star, 30-storey Carlton Hotel, which was prime accommodation in Gauteng and popular with the rich and famous. Former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former President of France François Mitterrand, Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and singers Whitney Houston and Mick Jagger count among the hotel’s many famous guests.
Urban decay in the inner city in the 1990s took its toll on the hotel, which shut its doors in 1997 after nearly 25 years of operation and to this day the Carlton Hotel, which sits next to the Carlton Centre, remains empty.
The Carlton Centre building was bought by state-owned freight company Transnet in 1999 and the upper floors house offices while in the lower floors there is a popular shopping centre. The entrance to the lift which takes you to the Top of Africa viewing deck can be found in the lower levels of the mall.
If you want a bird’s-eye view of Johannesburg, the 50-storey Carlton Centre is the place to go. Visitors to the centre can enjoy a panoramic view of the City of Gold from the Top of Africa, as the topmost floor of the building is known: 360 degrees of dense cityscape and outwards towards the countryside and beyond.
The tallest building in Africa and once the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, the Carlton Centre stands 223m high – about 40m shy of featuring on the world’s top 100 skyscrapers list. However, this feat of architecture makes the centre one of the must-see Johannesburg attractions.
Lesedi Cultural Village
Set amid rocky hills and bushveld less than one hour’s drive from Johannesburg, and on the way to Sun City, Lesedi Cultural Village offers visitors a chance to encounter people of Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Ndebele and Basotho origin.
You’ll meet real people (not actors in fancy dress), enter their homes and listen to stories about their individual cultures and rituals of daily life. Inevitably this is a bit of a “touristy” experience, but Lesedi Cultural Village is unique. Expect an excellent and authentic African experience in the country, one that provides warmth, depth and insight into South Africa’s colourful diversity of cultures.