Speaking on future global cataclysmic events, Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, commented in 2015 about the likelihood of a nuclear world war.
Taking place between October 1963 and the following June, the Rivonia Trial led to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and his co-accused. They were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial is named after Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb where Lilieslief Farm is situated. This former farm is where African National Congress activists had gone to ground and where they were arrested by the State security police. It is synonymous with the birthplace of the armed struggle against apartheid through the creation of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) unit.
Today, Lilisleaf is a heritage site and museum of apartheid resistance. Cedric’s Cafe, on the premises, is so called because liberation activists had code-named the farm "Cedric". The cafe is open to the public -- patrons need only pay an admission fee if they opt for a tour of the historical site.
On arrival, visitors are shown a 12-minute introductory film in the Liberation Centre. An exhibit named uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) and the Africa Hinterland Safari Truck explores the history of the ANC's military wing. It reveals the inner workings of the Africa Hinterland company and other covert MK operations. Africa Hinterland was founded as an operator of overland tours. These were popular with British, Australian and Kiwi youth visiting the so-called ‘frontline states’, the name given to the postcolonial neighbours of apartheid South Africa.
Under the auspices of then MK Chief-of-Staff Joe Slovo, the company was originally registered in Britain. Africa Hinterland operated a converted Bedford truck whose routes extended as far south as Cape Town. Luggage and camping equipment were stored under the Bedford's passenger seats, but with access only from outside the truck body. Unbeknown to South African border officials, the cavities went an additional 10cm deeper along the entire 5m length of the passenger section, but were accessible only from under the passenger seats.
In the compartments under the bottoms of unsuspecting tourists, MK is estimated to have smuggled up to 30 tons of arms into South Africa between 1987 and the early 1990s. This accounted for as much as 90% of all weapons brought into the country in the span leading up to the negotiated end of apartheid.
In Rooms 2 - 5 of the Lilisleaf exhibits, you may probe the many theories about how the police discovered that ANC leaders were hiding out there. Rooms 6 - 9 cover three devastating political trials of the 1960s, the Rivonia trial, the Little Rivonia trial and the trial of anti-apartheid hero Bram Fischer. Rooms 10 - 13 were the living quarters of "David Motsamayi" aka Nelson Mandela, Lilisleaf's most famous resident.
Round out your tour on the other side with a look at the thatched cottage. This humble structure hosted many a meeting of anti-apartheid fighters, and it was here that the police made the arrests leading to the Rivonia Trial.
With a collection spanning more than a century, the James Hall Museum of Transport deserves the title of "the largest and most comprehensive museum of land transport in South Africa", which it conferred upon itself. Go and be gobsmacked at the number of contraptions that have been dreamed up for getting around Johannesburg (It is on Turf Road, Wemmer Pan).
The exhibit of animal-drawn vehicles covers the years 1870 to 1910. Much as modern cars all have names for specific builds, so too among the carts of yesteryear are the Surrey, the Governess and a Victoria, which was mostly used as a taxi in towns and cities. The Zeederberg coach on display is a replica, the original being housed at Museum Africa. There's even a horse-drawn tram that was in service until 1906.
Also of local interest are the Cape carts, in two-seater as well as four-seater variants. A prototype of the all-purpose vehicle, the Kakebeenwa (jaw-bone wagon) has gone down in history for its role in the Voortrekker migration. Rounding out this part of the collection are a number of other ox-drawn wagons.
The cycles on display include penny-farthings, an early tandem and tricycles for riders of all sizes. In the motorised two-wheeler section are bikes by the likes of Levi, Birmingham Small Arms and German manufacturer Neckarsulm, but there really isn't enough space in this post to do justice to the thematic displays and exhibits in the different halls.
For the little boy inside every man of a certain generation, one section is dedicated to fire-fighting equipment. These fire engines range from a 1913 Merryweather Steam Pump to the 1947 Dennis boasting an 8-cylinder Rolls Royce engine. There is also a 1936 Magirus Deutz with a ladder that can be extended to a height of 45 metres.
In the buses and coaches section is a 1952 RT London Bus. This is still in use, ferrying passengers on sightseeing tours across Johannesburg. The 1958 GUY double-decker diesel bus might have been lost to posterity, except for the fact that the museum acquired it from the now defunct Durban Historical Transport Society.
Among more than 2,500 exhibited items, the museum boasts a noteworthy car collection. There's a Model-T Ford, a 1963 Porsche 356 C Coupé and a black 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. Of all these, the 1900 Clement-Panhard is the oldest. One of the electric models on display is an example of the Joule, a five-seater passenger car built by Cape Town's own Optimal Energy.
Johannesburg owes the James Hall Museum of Transport to the late Jimmie Hall, a car nut who established it together with the City Council in 1964. Entrance to the museum is free 7 days a week except for being closed for lunch from 12 to 1 p.m.
Not many Johannesburg establishments can claim to have been in continuous existence for 3-billion years. But Melville Koppies can.
Fair enough, Melville Koppies Nature Reserve was created, and the area declared a Johannesburg City Heritage Site with a view to conserving the last of the Witwatersrand's ridges, only after gold mining had largely rearranged the rest. But the rock formations go back 3-billion years.
We know people were living here as long as 500,000 years ago, thanks to a late Stone Age living floor. That's a layer of earth with tools and artifacts that can be dated to that epoch, with items left by later inhabitants lying in shallower soil. These other residents arrived recently, only about 1,000 years ago. Their remaining stonework (thought to have been a complex of cattle kraals) still stands on the northern slopes of the Koppies. In 1963, or in geological terms, yesterday, an ancient iron-smelting furnace was excavated and is on exhibited to the public.
Proclaimed in 1959, the 50 hectares of Melville Koppies central is the oldest part of the reserve. Access through this point is allowed only to organised tours and hikes. Both Melville Koppies east and west are open to the public daily for walks, which are scheduled for the latter. If you enjoy fresh air, a bit of sun and a good climb, then the Koppies are for you.
Vegetation on the Koppies is indigenous throughout, a remarkable example of Highveld grasses, flowers and trees, overlooked by progress and preserved intact, virtually in the city centre. The forest is mainly brack thorn acacia and blue gwarrie. At the crest of the reserve, the city stretches out all around you. Except for the traffic noise below, you could easily imagine yourself hiking in the wild, hours away from Johannesburg.
Flowing along the western boundary of the Koppies is the Westdene Spruit. Together with the Braamfontein and Jukskei spruits, this is one of several streams flowing northwards from the Witwatersrand watershed. The banks of the Westdene create a special environment in the Koppies, where giant stinkwood trees dominate. There are also large bushwillows, wild olive trees and wild peach trees.
The 3-hour guided tours through the heritage site cover about 4km. The cost was R60 per person. At the end of that, you'll be glad so many Melville establishments minister to the thirsty. In contrast to most of Johannesburg, Melville like some of Braamfontein, Emmarentia, Greenside or Parkhurst, still has restaurants and bars giving directly onto the street - which is better for heritage than having them tucked away in some featureless mall. There's also a choice of more than 30 guesthouses around and about, if you need accommodation.
Their contact details:
Phone: +27 11 482 4797
A visit to Johannesburg's Lion & Safari Park is almost like a visit to the Kruger National Park, only without the four-hour drive from Lanseria Airport. Compare this with the 12 minutes it takes to reach the Lion & Safari Park (from the same departure point) along the R512 Pelindaba Road, and you'll agree that for Johannesburgers, there's just no contest.
At the Lion & Safari Park, guests have a choice of guided game drives and self-drives, starting at ZAR195 per adult in your vehicle. On guided tours, visitors may hand-feed the giraffes, ostriches and various antelope species roaming the 600-hectare property. Children aged 12 and under enter free, paying only for activities.
Besides a lion population of more than 80 individuals – including examples of the white sub-species – the Park is home to cheetah, three varieties of hyena (brown, spotted and striped), leopard and African wild dogs. Of course, there’s a choice of guided tours, with plenty of interesting facts from the guides. The tours can take as little as an hour, and up to 3 hours for the Safari. This is billed as the flagship tour, ending with drinks and snacks on the banks of the Crocodile River.
You might think that another advantage of the Lion Park over Kruger, is that the Gauteng lions are quite used to interacting with humans. They are, but this is not to say they are all tame. Lions in enclosures endure stress and boredom. As a result, they sometimes exhibit behaviour not seen back in the bundus, like trying to open car doors. This is because their meals arrive in vehicles, and the juveniles in particular assume that each passing vehicle is a potential meal ticket.
If you or any of your party should fancy a meal during your visit, repair to the Wetlands Restaurant and Bar. Kids will love the choice of sandwiches, samoosas, grilled chicken, milkshakes and other items on the menu. For a less casual experience, the Bull 'n Buck Grill tempts you with venison, veal, seafood and steaks with a wine list to match.
The Park offers the 5 Dome Shopping Experience for the spenders. Here you can browse a wide range of locally sourced arts and crafts, jewellery, clothing and homeware. In case you're wondering what to do with the dozens of pics you'll have on your smartphone by the time you're done, the Park's photographic centre has got you covered. Pop in to have your snaps printed onto key-rings, mugs, puzzles and more.
The Lion & Safari Park is open all-year round, including Sundays and public holidays. But call in advance to confirm closing times, as they vary.
Until recently, most tours of Johannesburg steered clear of Soweto. Happily, that ignominy has ended with the official recognition accorded to certain monuments and important spaces in the 200km2 area.
A must-see, now preserved as a place of significance, is the house occupied since around 1934 by the “Father of Soweto”, James ‘Sofasonke’ Mpanza at Hlatywayo Street in Orlando. Mpanza was a larger-than-life character, who converted to Christianity and became a preacher while doing time for fraud and murder.
Released after a pardon to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1927, he taught in Pretoria and like thousands of other blacks, later moved to Johannesburg. Towards the end of World War II, blacks in Johannesburg suffered from an acute shortage of housing. The government, mines and other industries employing them had failed to make any provision for them.
In 1944, thanks to his stature as a reformed man, Mpanza was able to organise a squat by 8, 000 followers on municipal land. After clashes with the police left two dead, but failed to move the squatters, municipal resistance crumbled. An emergency camp was declared on which 991 families would be sheltered.
In 1946 another 30, 000 people congregated in a squat west of Orlando. The municipality immediately declared a new emergency camp named Moroka. These camps were meant to be used for only five years, but when they were razed in 1955 to make way for more formal, serviced structures, Moroka and Jabavu housed
89, 000 residents.
Also in 1955, a dusty field in Kliptown, the oldest settled part of Soweto, was the venue of an unprecedented Congress of the People. It was attended by about 3, 000 members of organisations resisting the white supremacist government. The Congress adopted the Freedom Charter, a list of demands canvassed from blacks across the country and synthesised into the final document by various leaders.
In 2005, 50 years after the adoption of the Freedom Charter, then-President Thabo Mbeki lit a flame of freedom at the venue of the Congress. The ceremony marked the opening of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. In the square stands a memorial to the document, 10 large triangular concrete slabs on which the principles of the Freedom Charter are etched.
Mandela House is another popular tourist stop in Soweto. Officially the Nelson Mandela National Museum, this is the house on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West where Mandela lived from 1946 to 1962. Together with Tutu House – a property belonging the family of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu – this gives Vilakazi Street the distinction of being the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel laureates.
Over the Easter holidays, the Rand Easter Show has long been the place to visit in Johannesburg. Since 1894, as southern Africa's most varied consumer exhibit, the Rand Show has been a reliable drawcard for visitors of all ages, from surrounding areas and further afield.
Founded by the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, the Rand Show originally showcased livestock and farming implements. It still does, in parts. In other parts, the Show has moved a long way from its rural beginnings.
Take the House of Horrors as an example. This is described as experiential theatre that everyone aged 13 and older should investigate if they dare. It is not for the faint-hearted. The installation is a world that unfolds as the dream of a young child. In it, fearsome characters are brought to life through the use of multi-media and special effects that immerse you in spine-tingling encounters.
If that’s not your thing, you can still count on the familiar exhibits. The Flower and Garden Expo brings you the latest in garden design, outdoor furniture and accessories. Enter the Garden Show competition to stand a chance to win tickets to London’s famed Chelsea Flower Show in May.
The Lifestyle Expo is touted as an interactive platform offering savvy consumers the best of South African design. There are kitchen and dining zones, a home tech zone, a health, beauty and wellness zone as well as a homebuilding and renovating zone.
The South African National Defence Force arena programme takes place at the main arena, daily at 15:00, only until Monday 2 April. Drill teams will be going through their paces for the edification of the public. Members of the army’s chief airborne infantry unit, the 44 Parachute Regiment, will also show off their skills, together with units incorporating canine, equestrian and motorcycle training into their displays.
The Festival Stage is a beacon of musical entertainment throughout, with performances by favourites including Caroline Grace and Dr Victor. On Saturday, 7 April, the Stage hosts Mr & Miss Rand Show.
No visit to the Rand Show is complete without an adrenaline-fuelled visit to the fun fair. This year, the rides in the amusement park will have longer operating hours than ever before, from 10h00 all the way to closing time at 21h00. For even more excitement, drifting rides and helicopter rides are also on offer.
Rand Show is at the Nasrec Expo Centre from 30 March to 8 April.
Tourists (and Johannesburgers at the end of their tether) are well advised to visit the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, to catch their breath and recuperate. This well-loved nature preserve may be in Roodepoort, a north-westerly node of the urban sprawl, but it might as well be a world away.
The Garden has long been a popular stop for bridal parties as well as, dare we add, toddlers. Those who like being out in sunny weather are also known to frequent it. People go there for the hiking trails, to celebrate a birthday or, taking their cue from the plant life, just to vegetate.
Ironically, paying a recreational visit to Johannesburg is a tough call. You can be under such pressure to see so much in a limited time, that you forget to relax. And if you are a local student or overworked professional, you most likely don’t remember how to relax or even what to do in a botanical garden. For a start, because of patchy reception, you can reduce your worries by leaving things like tablets and — if humanly possible — cell phones in your dorm or at home.
But probably the best advice to the highly-strung, is found on the website of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. During an online recce, we were lured by the title, “How to Enjoy a Botanical Garden”. Under it, we discovered gems like, “Enjoy the tranquillity away from city noise”; “Take pride in South Africa’s indigenous plants and animals”; and our favourite, “Look at the beautiful surroundings”.
At the physical location, to look is to admire. Visitors may feast the senses on, among others, the succulent rockery garden, the cycad garden, the water garden, the arboretum and the geological garden. If you go, take the time to wander through the fern trail. With its shadowed slopes and footbridges, it feels just like being in one of those forests of fable.
A body named the Environmental Education and Empowerment Division conducts guided tours through the environs. Popular as field trips for students, these tours are also available to the general public, at a cost of ZAR170 on weekdays, ZAR225 on Saturdays and ZAR300 on Sundays for each group of about 20.
If flora and rock formations are not your thing, the Garden protects a diverse spread of fauna. There are examples of wild cat (caracal), various small buck, the South African hedgehog, the black-backed jackal and the Cape porcupine. Some of these creatures are shy or nocturnal. Others just hate people. If you could care less, book your crew a night walk to see the bats, for example, in the warmer months.
Of course, many nature lovers visiting the Garden are birdwatchers. They are drawn by a list of more than 226 species, in habitats including grassland, woodland and veld. The star attractions are the Verreaux’s Eagles nesting in the cliff face below the Witpoortjie Falls. To catch them in flight is enough to make anyone forget their troubles, and unwind.
Johannesburg has been the scene of much repression, resistance to progress and therefore many epic clashes over the decades. When the head-butting is done, the antagonists often record their deeds in music or literature. But in the case of Constitution Hill, masonry is the chosen medium.
The Constitution Hill precinct lies on the border between Hillbrow, Parktown and Braamfontein. It is today the seat of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, guaranteeing the freedoms of South African citizens, relative to each other and to the State. In contrast, the first builders to break ground on the site had a more straightforward vision, viz. making sure the State stayed in power while prisoners stayed in prison.
The original structure was erected to house white male prisoners in 1892. The Old Fort was built around this prison on the orders of Paul Kruger (of Krugerrand fame) from 1896 to 1899. This was to protect what he called the South African Republic from the threat of British invasion.
Later, the Old Fort prison was extended to include "native" (black) cells, called Section 4 and Section 5. Finding that women were becoming more like men, in 1907 the State added a women's section, the Women's Gaol. An awaiting-trial block was constructed in the 1920s. Striking white mineworkers were held on the premises in 1907, 1913 and 1922, during the term of Jan Smuts as prime minister. In the apartheid era, the prison complex became a detention centre for political dissidents.
Glancing at the total list of inmates who served time within its walls, is like taking a crash course in South African history. In a kind of poetic justice, the Kruger who had fortified the prison spent time there as a guest of the State, when he and Her Britannic Majesty Victoria quarrelled about who headed that State. Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned there in 1906. Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Albert Luthuli and Robert Sobukwe round out the roll-call of its most famous inmates.
As hinted, not all the women imprisoned in the Women's Gaol were there for being dissidents. One inmate, Daisy de Melker, the last white woman to be hanged in the country, was convicted of poisoning her son, having been unsuccessfully tried for the murder of the two men she married in succession. In 1982, Yvonne Ntonto Mhlauli, a black woman, was arrested and tried for being so bold as to hold hands in public with a white man. She was convicted under the provisions of the Immorality Act, and served her sentence at the Women's Gaol and at Diepkloof Prison.
In this sense, Constitution Hill is a museum about the stupidity of State-sponsored dehumanising ideology. It's a heritage site worth seeing, even the hour-long highlights tour. JT staff, as hardy Johannesburgers, took the two-hour full tour in the company of two kids younger than 17 years, at ZAR52.25 for each and ZAR80.75 per adult.