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TThe history of Gauteng (meaning ‘place of gold’ in Sotho) 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 the 1886 gold rush that sparked the developments that would shape the province we know today. After gold was discovered, thousands of people streamed into the region and Johannesburg became the largest gold producer in the world at the time.
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). Today Pretoria is one of South Africa’s three capital cities and the seat of the administrative branch of government.
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.
Although its recent history was documented from the 1800s, archaeological evidence suggests Gauteng's roots run much deeper.
The Cradle of Humankind, a fossil-rich paleoanthropological site and one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, lies just 50 kms northwest 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 the area. Maropeng, the official Visitor Centre of the Cradle of Humankind, lets visitors explore the origins of humankind through exhibitions and displays of prehistoric fossils and artefacts.
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. Liliesleaf is located in Rivonia, Johannesburg and considered to be an integral part of the struggle for liberation. The farm once served as a refuge to leaders of the liberation struggle and today Liliesleaf is a museum dedicated to their efforts and the history of the fight against Apartheid.
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.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)11 085 2500
Tel: +27 (0) 11 883 3525
Tel: +27 (0)12 841 4212
How to get there
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
Things to do
Check out the Hector Pieterson Museum, Mandela House, Origins Centre Museum, Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. If you’re visiting The Cradle of Humankind, check out the Wondercave located in the Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve on the West Rand. Pretoria is home to the Voortrekker Monument and Union Buildings. The Cullinan Diamond Mine in Dinokeng is a bit of a drive but makes for a great day trip.