HIGHLIGHTS OF A JOHANNESBURG DAY TOUR
The majority of international tourists arrive in South Africa at OR Tambo Airport and are whisked off to smart hotels in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and then promptly on to popular tourist destinations like the Cape Winelands and the northern provinces with its abundance of game reserves and stunning scenery.
Few have the opportunity to explore the inner city of Johannesburg which is unfortunate as it is a destination that is rich in history and once the burgeoning economic hub of the country in the gold mining era.
Like any inner city, it is not a place to wander around on your own without someone who can guarantee your safety. However, with a professional and knowledgeable guide from Moafrika Tours, visitors to South Africa are able to soak up the rich heritage and ambiance of this buzzing city.
Once home to the large mining corporations and financial institutions that have since relocated to business hubs such as Sandton and Rosebank, the inner city of Johannesburg has taken on a new face and is as exciting as it was in its gold-infused hey days. Urban development projects have breathed new life into the neglected city centre and it is attracting spirited homeowners who have embraced the ultimate experience in urban living.
Moafrika Tours provide a guide that has an intimate knowledge of its history and will take you past landmarks that form part of its vital landscape. Suburbs like Hillbrow, Central Johannesburg, Braamfontein and Newtown form part of the tour and a Moafrika Tours guide regales stories of life in that era.
Often called Hillbrow Tower as it is located in the heart of this once-vibrant suburb, this impressive tower was the tallest structure in the world until 1978 when it was surpassed by the 270m Mount Isa Chimney in Queensland, Australia.
Telkom Tower is a striking landmark, towering over the city of Johannesburg at a height of 269 meters (883 feet). Construction of the tower began in June 1968 and was completed three years later in April 1971 at a cost of US$2.8 million at the time. It was initially known as the JG Strijdom Tower after the former South African Prime Minister but was renamed Telkom Jo’burg Tower in 2005 at the dawn of South Africa’s democratic independence.
It was constructed for South African Posts & Telecommunications which later became shortened to Telkom. The telecommunication institution was and still is a government-run body.
Telkom Tower was built to extend beyond the height of the tall buildings in the central business district which housed the largest and most prominent business institutions at the time. The towers were a popular attraction up until the early 1980s as the top floor was open to the public.
A revolving restaurant named Heinrich’s Restaurant was a favourite among businessman and tourists who enjoyed panoramic views of the city from its great height. There was another restaurant on the same floor called the Grill Room that did not revolve but was equally as popular, and visitors could step out onto an observation floor positioned 197 meters above the ground level.
Telkom Towers was closed to visitors in 1981 and is now merely landmark structure that draws visitors’ eyes to the central heart of Johannesburg.
This magnificent landmark is described as a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. It is the site of a former prison and military fort and home to the country’s Constitutional Court.
Its stark halls whisper of the pain and heartache of thousands of men and women who were incarcerated within the walls of the Old Fort’s Women’s Jail and the infamous Number Four Jail. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Joe Slovo, Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Fatima Meer all served time here in this unforgiving jail house aswell as tens of thousands of South African citizens who were imprisoned here during its 100-year history.
Constitutional Hill honours those who fought for justice and liberation and is testament to the importance of preserving sites of atrocity for posterity. A tour with Moafrika Tours allows one to interact on a spiritual level with those that bore the brunt of brutal injustices and to silently celebrate the role they played in bringing about change and democracy.
Constitution Hill invites visitors to touch the textured walls, read the graffiti, listen to the echoes of pained desperation, stride up the Great African Steps, stand in the highest court in our land and learn what constitutionalism means to all South Africans.
Nelson Mandela Bridge
This outstanding structure may be only a mere bridge to daily commuters but it is an outstanding civil engineering achievement and a glistening landmark that links the turbulent past of the old days with the hopes and aspirations of a new democratic age.
The Nelson Mandela Bridge is the conduit for all traffic travelling to and from downtown Johannesburg to the inner city. It was named after the first democratically-elected President of South Africa and a symbolic representation of the man’s stature, esteem and strength.
The bridge was built at a cost of R38 million and is the largest cable-stayed bridge in southern Africa. It was an engineering feat that involved 4 000 cubic meters of concrete, 1 000 tons of structural steel and 500 tons of construction steel. It is 284 meters long, 42 meters high at the north pylon and 27 meters high at the south pylon.
The building of the bridge was part of the ongoing BlueIQ initiative, which has poured over R500 million into the rejuvenation of the downtown area. These projects have breathed new life into the central business district and prevented the historical region from falling into disrepair and becoming a ‘no-go’ inner city zone.
The Nelson Mandela Bridge links the Newtown Cultural Precinct with lower Braamfontein, the Constitutional Court, the University of the Witwatersrand and the Civic Theatre. It was officially opened by Nelson Mandela himself in July 2003.
Mary Fitzgerald Square
The Newtown Precinct was renamed The Mary Fitzgerald Square in honour of a woman who was considered to be the first female trade unionist in South Africa. Affectionately known as ‘Pickhandle’, Mary (1890-1960) was a formidable character and a legend in her time.
The square was previously referred to as Aaron’s Ground and was a meeting place often-used for striker’s meetings in the early 20th century. Today it is the centerpoint of the Newtown urban renewal project and is surrounded by significant landmarks, including the Market Theatre (otherwise known as the Struggle Theatre), MuseuMAfrica, the old Turbine Mill and the Worker’s Library.
Striking lighting features designed by a French lighting engineer, Patrick Rimoux, create a magnificent atmosphere in the evenings when the square hosts a popular weekly music event. Carved wooden heads stand sentry, looking on at passers-by who are either there to soak up its rich historical heritage or there to enjoy a few moments out of the office for some fresh air and sunshine.
Jazz Walk of Fame
A long granite strip engraved with the names of nine of South Africa’s jazz legends is located in Jeppe Street, close to the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown. Each name has a short description alongside it that is an inspirational short story of the musician’s life.
The Johnnie Walker Pioneering Spirits of Jazz Walk of Fame honours music icons that shaped the history of jazz in South Africa and captured stories of bravery, hope, despair and oppression during times of struggle. They are Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masekela, Winston Mankunku, Miriam Makeba, Chris McGregor, Basil Manenberg Coetzee, Hotep Idris Galeta, Zacks Nkosi and Ntemi Piliso.
Top of Africa
The “Top of Africa’ is located on the top floor of the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg. This striking building is 50-storeys high and the tallest building in Africa. It only just fails to make it onto the list of the world’s top 100 skyscrapers, at a mere height of 40 metres. Visitors enjoy panoramic views of the city below and the lush suburbs beyond.
The Top of Africa is a wrap-around viewing deck with 360° views. On a clear day, you can see the major cities of Gauteng such as Soweto, Rosebank and Sandton and Pretoria in the distance. An abundance of trees that make up the landscape of Johannesburg creates the illusion that the cities are separated by a tranquil green sea.
Visitors look out over the old mine dumps and can visualise what the city would have looked like all those years ago when tens of thousands of desperate immigrants descended on the area, set up homes in shanty huts on the flat, dusty plains and dreamt of making their fortune.
Information boards provide visitors with interesting information, and there is a fascinating exhibition of photographs that showcase the role Gandhi played in South Africa’s activism period.
The Carlton Centre opened its doors in 1973 and was once a thriving business centre that included a five-star hotel, corporate offices, entertainment arenas and abundance of shopping outlets. It has lost some of its former glamour and glitz and the hotel has been closed for many years; however, it is still a great place to visit to experience the dynamic vibe of a modern-day African city.