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History of Johannesburg, Gauteng

johannesburg history gautengThe history of Johannesburg extends back thousands of years to when it was inhabited by hunter-gatherer peoples. The region surrounding Johannesburg was originally inhabited by San tribes. By the 13th century, groups of Bantu-speaking people started moving southwards from central Africa and encroached on the indigenous San population. By the mid 18th century, the broader region was densely settled by various Sotho–Tswana communities (one linguistic branch of Bantu-speakers), whose villages, towns, chiefdoms and kingdoms stretched from what is now Botswana in the west, to present day Lesotho in the south, to the present day Pedi areas of the northern Transvaal.

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Many Sotho–Tswana towns and villages in the areas around Johannesburg were destroyed and their people driven away during the wars emanating from Zululand during the late 18th and early 19th centuries (the mfecane or difaqane wars), and as a result, an offshoot of the Zulu kingdom, the Ndebele (often referred to by the name the local Sotho–Tswana gave them, the Matebele), set up a kingdom to the northwest of Johannesburg around modern day Hartebeestpoort and Rustenburg, and historians believe that the Matebele kingdom dominated the Johannesburg area.

The Dutch speaking Voortrekkers arrived in the early 19th century, driving away the Matebele with the help of Sotho–Tswana allies, establishing settlements around Rustenburg and Pretoria in the early 1830s, and claiming sovereignty over what would become Johannesburg as part of the South African Republic (known informally as the Transvaal Republic). Gold was discovered in the 1880s and triggered the gold rush. Gold was initially discovered some 400 km to the east of present-day Johannesburg, in Barberton. Gold prospectors soon discovered that there were even richer gold reefs in the Witwatersrand. Gold was discovered at Langlaagte, Johannesburg in 1886. Although Johannesburg only became officially a city in 1928 it was set up as a town as early as 1886. The town was set up on a piece of land that was previously a farm called Randjieslaagte. At that time the Government owned the property and auctioned off 980 stands which lead to the establishment of the town.

Johannesburg was a dusty settlement some 55 km from the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) capital which was Pretoria. The town was much the same as any small prospecting settlement, but, as word spread, people flocked to the area from all other regions of the country, as well as from North America, the United Kingdom and Europe. Like many late 19th century mining towns, Johannesburg was a rough and disorganized place, populated by white miners from other continents, African tribesmen recruited to perform unskilled mine work, African women beer brewers who cooked for and sold beer to the black migrant workers, a very large number of European prostitutes, gangsters, impoverished Afrikaners, tradesmen, and Zulu "AmaWasha," Zulu men who surprisingly dominated laundry work. As the value of control of the land increased, tensions developed between the Boer government in Pretoria and the British, culminating in the Jameson Raid that ended in fiasco at Doornkop in January 1896 and the Second Boer War (1899–1902) that saw British forces under Lord Roberts occupy the city on 30 May 1900 after a series of battles to the south of its then-limits.

The name of the town of Johannesburg was derived from the names of two commissioners, Johannes Rissik and Christiaan Johannes Joubert. They were the commissioners who had confirmed the discovery of gold by George Harrison in the area. Street names such as Rissik, Harrison and Commissioner in Johannesburg commemorate the roles these individuals played in the establishment of the town. By the time gold was discovered in the Johannesburg area the diamond rush in Kimberley was already reaching its end. When these diamond prospectors heard of the discovery of gold in the north many left Kimberley for Johannesburg. They arrived in the area in their droves and new shops and houses made out of corrugated iron was erected almost overnight. It soon became a lively town with pubs, shops and canteens opening all the time.

Johannesburg experienced its fair share of growing pains. September of 1889 saw the first strike by mine workers for less hours and more pay. Water was also a problem with the private company supplying water to the town being unable to keep with the demand. Johannesburg has grown rapidly since then and has become a large town with a charm of its own. The city is currently undergoing a transformation with efforts of attracting business and cleaning up the city.

Major building developments took place in the 1930s, after South Africa went off the gold standard. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Hillbrow went high-rise. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the apartheid government constructed the massive agglomeration of townships that became known as Soweto (South Western Townships). New freeways encouraged massive suburban sprawl to the north of the city. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, tower blocks (including the Carlton Centre and the Southern Life Centre) filled the skyline of the central business district. The central area of the city underwent something of a decline in the 1980s and 1990s, due to crime and when property speculators directed large amounts of capital into suburban shopping malls, decentralised office parks, and entertainment centres. Sandton City was opened in 1973, followed by Rosebank Mall in 1976, and Eastgate in 1979.



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