The History of Gauteng is rooted in its origins as a gold rush region. Today, it is the commercial and industrial centre of South Africa and one of the wealthiest provinces on the continent. Its historical past also includes a pivotal role in the country’s struggle for freedom.

Did you know?

The Gauteng province's fossil-rich Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The history of Gauteng can be traced back to the early 1800s, when settlers from the Cape defeated Chief Mzilikazi and established villages in what is today Gauteng, South Africa.

But it was really the 1886 discovery of gold in Johannesburg that sparked the developments that would shape the Gauteng province. For after those first gold nuggets were found, thousands of people streamed into the region hoping to find their fortunes.

The early, rural villages quickly exploded into shanty towns that spread out along the gold-bearing reef. These corrugated iron settlements were soon formalised, providing the infrastructure for modern-day Johannesburg.

Johannesburg's older sister, Pretoria, wasn't subjected to this same flurry of activity and exponential growth. Established in 1855 as the capital of the Boer (Dutch-speaking farmers) republic, it grew slowly and was highly regarded for its role in the South African War (1899 - 1902).

This juxtaposition still exits today; while Johannesburg is called the ‘city of gold' and retains its frenetic pace, Pretoria is referred to as the ‘Jacaranda city' and exudes a more laid back vibe.

One cannot talk of the history of Gauteng without mentioning is prehistoric past. Although its recent history was documented from the 1800s, archaeological evidence suggests Gauteng's roots run much deeper.

West of Johannesburg, at the Sterkfontein Caves, some of the world's oldest fossilised hominid remains have been discovered. ‘Mrs Ples' and ‘Little Foot' as the 2-million and 3-million-year-old fossils are known, bear testament to the fact that prehistoric man roamed this area long before the arrival of the European settlers.

More recently, Gauteng spearheaded the country's fight for freedom. It was here that the spirit of democracy took hold, fuelling protests, demonstrations and a struggle that would eventually change the course of history.

Gauteng's role in building a new South Africa, filled with hope and promise, is one that is poignantly significant and will never be forgotten.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Gauteng Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)11 639 1600

Johannesburg Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)11 214 0700

Tshwane Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)12 328 5961

How to get here

Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities into OR Tambo International Airport at Johannesburg.
If you’re driving, from Durban take the N3 motorway to Johannesburg and from Cape Town take the N1 motorway to Johannesburg.

Best time to visit

Gauteng is an all-year-round destination. Spring to autumn (September to May) is beautiful and warm, with hot summer days that usually bring rain. Winter days are mild, but mornings and evenings very cold.

Tours to do

The Benoni Museum, Hector Pieterson Museum, Nelson Mandela’s House, Origin’s Centre Museum, Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill in Johannesburg; Sterkfontein Caves, Maropeng Visitors Centre, Wonder Cave and Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve on the West Rand; the SA Mint and historical tours in Pretoria; the Cullinan Diamond Mine in Dinokeng.

What to eat

Choose from a wide variety of cuisine, from authentic African to boerekos (farm-style food). You will also find themed restaurants offering fare from around the world, most notably Indian, Chinese, Greek, Portuguese and Italian which reflect the influences of these cultures in South Africa.

What's happening

The Johannesburg Art Fair and Easter Festival (the former, well-known Rand Show) in April and Arts Alive Festival in September in Johannesburg; The SA Mint Festival in Pretoria in October; the Vaal Show in Vereeniging in September; the Spring Wine Festival in September, Mampoer (home-brewed alcoholic spirits) Fest in February, and the Magalies Steam Train Challenge in November, all in Magaliesburg.