Images of Southern Africa - Johannesburg


The discovery of gold in the Transvaal in the 1880s led to Johannesburg rapidly becoming the largest city in Africa south of Cairo (Egypt). The need to extract this finite resource led to massive population movements (by 1899 nearly 100,000 Africans were working as temporary migrants on the gold mines). It also led to the expansion of segregationist policies that determined who could live where in the city. Today the area has about 35% of the world’s gold reserves and produces about 17% of the annual global production. However, since 1991 the number of employees in the gold mines has declined from 429,000 to 197,000. This decline reflects a move from unskilled contract labour to employment of more permanent, semi-skilled and skilled labour.

According to its own planners, the City of Johannesburg’s current (2004) population is 2.8 million. This is out of a South African population, at the last census (2001), of 44.8 million. Forty per cent of Johannesburg’s population is under the age of 24 and nearly 1 million live in Soweto, a Township developed during the apartheid era (1948 until the 1990s). The city’s current growth rate is estimated to be +0.9%, but this is complicated by the recent influx of migrants from Zimbabwe.

The photograph shows a part of the city’s central business district. Since the end of apartheid, there has been considerable ‘flight’ of businesses into more affluent white suburbs, such as Sandton. Open spaces in the city indicate areas that are struggling to attract investment.

A popular form of transport for the majority of the city’s population is the minibus taxi, shown in the foreground. These are organised on a small-scale, are cheap, and operate with neither formal stops nor to a timetable, but link all areas of the city

Ideas for further exploration

  • In just over 100 years, Johannesburg has grown from a very small settlement to a city of nearly 3 million people. Can you find out its population at different times and plot the data as a graph? Can you predict what its population might be in 2020?
  • What are the implications for the city of Johannesburg and the wider region, including Lesotho, of the loss of well over 200,000 jobs in the gold industry?
  • What effects will migrants from Zimbabwe and the HIV/AIDS pandemic have on the demography of Johannesburg? (Falling life expectancy.)
    What does the word ‘Soweto’ mean? Why was the Township created?

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