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Joburg bound

The frenetic and fast-paced city of Johannesburg has its detractors, but the buzz is hard to beat and rewards those willing to investigate

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Fast-paced and frenetic Johannesburg is in complete contrast to laid-back Cape Town. Ever since gold and diamonds were discovered here in 1887, it seems the city has been in a rush. Today, it’s the biggest city in South Africa, and Africa’s third most populous behind Cairo and Lagos.

With connections across the world, Jo’burg is a truly global city, and it’s influence on the world’s markets is far in advance of any other city on the continent. Without the distractions of tourism, politics or administrative power, the main concern here has always been business.

Since the first gold was found to the east of present-day Johannesburg, in Barberton and subsequently the Witwatersrand, the city has retained a large-scale gold and diamond trade. In fact, 40% of the world’s gold is believed to have originated here.

Production in 1970 accounted for 79 percent of the world supply, producing about 1,000 tonnes.  However, in 2004 production was down to 342 tonnes due to the increasing difficulty of extraction. The classic postcard image of Johannesburg still abides – dusty gold mine dumps in the foreground and skyscrapers in the background.

Johannesburg has Africa’s largest stock exchange, the JSE Securities Exchange, as a consequence, the bulk of South Africa’s financial services are based here. The city also has a strong manufacturing base, with steel and cement production bolstering the city’s economic influence.

Home to nearly five million, Johannesburg looks much like Los Angeles – in climate and appearance. It’s is a young and sprawling city built around the motorcar and possessing an insufficient public transportation system. To make matters even more interesting,  there are seven official languages in Jo’burg: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Tswana, Sotho, Swati, and South Ndebele.

Crime is notorious in Jo’burg, but most travellers come and go without incident but common sense prevails: be aware of your surrounds and do not publicize your wealth, and drive with your doors locked.

Situated 550km inland on a vast plateau 1,700m high, the heat can be stifling in summer (November-March), but cooling breezes from the highveld make life in Jo’burg bearable. The average maximum temperature is 16°C in June, but it’s not unknown for the city to receive a dusting of snow.

Restaurants
Melville Grill – 11 7th St.  Tel: 011 727 2890
The finest steak house in South Africa and a Jo’burg institution, the Melville Grill is no place for vegetarians.  Perfectly aged beef is the order of the day here, but other meats get a look in.

Le Canard -163 Rivonia Road, Morningside – Tel: 011 884 4597.
Housed in a Georgian homestead, this elegant restaurant has been entertaining Jo’burg’s brass with classic French cuisine.  Veal, seafood, and of course, duck are the house specialities.

Moyo – 5 Melrose Square, Melrose Arch, Melrose – Tel: 011 684 1477
Beneath beaten copper ceilings, Moyo explores Africa’s multifarious cooking traditions.
The menu features samaki kavu from Kenya, chicken yassa from Nigeria, venison babootie from South Africa, and sweet-smelling tagines from Morocco.

Hotels
Michelangelo – 135 West St – 011 282-7000
Centrally located near Nelson Mandela Sq, the Michaelangelo is handy for restaurants, theatre and shopping.  Of course, the main draw here is the opulence and attention the hotel lavishes on its guests.

The Grace in Rosebank –  54 Bath Ave, Rosebank – tel 011 280 7200
One of the most luxurious hotels in town, it’s perennially popular with visiting business execs.  Set in the secure leafy suburb of Rosebank, everything you need is close at hand.

Saxon – 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst – Tel: 011 292 6000
The hotel has scooped four international awards since it opened in 2000, and has been voted one of the world’s best boutique hotels. Style and luxury in buckets.

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