It is apt that, when the nine provinces of South Africa were renamed after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, the former Transvaal Province (consisting of the PWV, an acronym for Pretoria, the Witwatersrand and Vereeniging) was called Gauteng, a Sesotho word meaning “place of gold”. The Witwatersrand (“ridge of white waters”), a ridge mostly formed from quartzite, conglomerates and shale that runs in an east-west direction through Gauteng, is famous for being the source of 40% of all the gold ever mined from the Earth.
Gauteng occupies just 1.4% of the land area of South Africa, but the province is densely populated and urbanised, and accounts for 33% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). It is the economic heart of Africa, chipping in an impressive 10% to the continent’s GDP.
The province is located in the Highveld of South Africa, situated on a high-altitude plateau of extensive grasslands about 1 500m (4 900ft) above sea-level. It is landlocked, surrounded by four other provinces. The Vaal River forms a natural border to the Free State, while the North West is located to the west, Limpopo to the north and Mpumalanga to the east.
Gauteng, influenced by the increased centralisation of modern cities, is divided into three metropolitan municipalities: the City of Johannesburg, the City of Tshwane (Greater Pretoria)and Ekurhuleni (the East Rand).
According to the South African Cities Network’s 2006 State of the Cities Report, the population of the Gauteng city region – comprising primarily the cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – is expected to grow to some 14.6-million people by 2015, making it the 14th largest urban region in the world.
The skyscrapers of Johannesburg, the provincial capital of Gauteng, also known as Jo’burg or Jozi, proudly declare it one of the most modern and prosperous cities in South Africa. Jozi is the hub of South Africa’s commercial, financial, industrial and mining undertakings. It is closely linked to the prosperous northern suburbs of Randburg and Sandton, while east and west ridges spread out from its centre.
The City of Johannesburg includes Soweto (South Western Township), originally a collection of settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg populated by African mine workers, and Lenasia, with a population mostly of Indian extraction.
The urban sprawl continues west from Johannesburg through towns such as Alberton, Benoni, Boksburg, Edenvale, Germiston, Brakpan, Nigel and Springs. These towns make up the new Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, which includes Kempton Park and Oliver Tambo International Airport – a major entry point into the country.
The East Rand was founded on gold mining, but Springs is the site of rich coal deposits. The area provides access to a network of highways that link to all the major cities of South Africa.
Randfontein, Roodepoort and Krugersdorp, situated roughly 45km west of Johannesburg, form the West Rand, which is comprised largely of farms and smallholdings. The Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve are near Kromdraai, and the area boasts the Cradle of Humankind.
To the north of Johannesburg is the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, which includes the City of Pretoria. Tshwane is the Setswana name of the Apies River, which flows through the city. The southern suburbs of Tshwane are slowly merging with the northern reaches of Johannesburg as urban spread continues.
Pretoria, the administrative capital of the country, is dominated by government services and the foreign diplomatic corps. Colourful gardens abound and the 50 000-strong purple-flowering jacaranda trees that line the streets make a splendid show in October.