With only 1.4% of South Africa’s land area, the tiny province of Gauteng punches way above its weight, contributing around 34% to the national economy and some 7% to the GDP of the entire African continent.
Sesotho for “place of gold”, Gauteng was built on the wealth of gold found deep underground – 40% of the world’s reserves. The economy has since diversified, with more sophisticated sectors such as finance and manufacturing setting up shop, and gold mining is no longer the mainstay. The province is essentially one big city, with 97% of its population living in urban centres.
Johannesburg is the capital of Gauteng province, while its northern neighbour Pretoria is the capital of South Africa. Johannesburg – known as Joburg or Jozi – is the biggest city in South Africa, and often compared to Los Angeles, with a similar urban sprawl linked by huge highway interchanges.
The City of Johannesburg is a single metropolitan municipality of over 1 645 square kilometres. Sydney’s central municipality, by comparison, is 1 500 square kilometres. It’s been calculated that if a resident of the southern-most area of Joburg, Orange Farm, were to walk northwards to the inner city, the journey would take three days.
Mine-dumps and headgear remain symbols of Johannesburg’s rich past, while modern architecture abuts fine examples of 19th-century engineering. Gleaming skyscrapers contrast with Indian bazaars and African medicine shops, and the streets throng with fruit sellers and street vendors. An exciting blend of ethnic and western art and cultural activities is reflected in theatres and open-air arenas throughout the city.
South of Johannesburg is Soweto, developed as a “dormitory township” for black people under the apartheid system. Much of the struggle against apartheid was fought in and from Soweto, which is now home to more than 2-million people.
The urban area extends virtually uninterrupted east and west of Johannesburg through a number of towns: Roodepoort and Krugersdorp on the west and Germiston, Springs, Boksburg and Benoni on the east.
To the north is Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, which forms part of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. The city is dominated by government services and the foreign diplomatic corps. It’s also known for its colourful gardens, shrubs and trees, particularly beautiful in spring when thousands of jacaranda trees envelop the avenues in mauve.
The important industrial and coal-mining towns of Vereeniging and Vanderbiljpark lie in southern Gauteng, on the Vaal River.
Gauteng: quick facts
- Capital: Johannesburg
- Languages: 19.8% isiZulu, 13.3% English, 12.4% Afrikaans, 11.6% Sesotho
- Population: 12 272 263 (2011)
- Share of South Africa’s population: 23.7%
- Area: 16 548 square kilometres
- Share of South Africa’s total land area: 1.4%
The land and its people
With a total area of 16 548 square kilometres, Gauteng is slightly smaller than the US state of New Jersey. While it’s the country’s smallest province, it has the largest population, and by far the highest population density – around 675 people per square kilometre. (The Northern Cape, by comparison, has an average of around three people per square kilometre.)
A summer-rainfall area, Gauteng has hot summers and cold winters with frost. Hail is common during summer thunderstorms.
The people of Gauteng have the highest per capita income level in the country. The province blends cultures, colours and first and third-world traditions in a spirited mix, flavoured by a number of foreign influences. The world’s languages can be heard on the streets and in offices, from English to Mandarin, Swahili, French, German and more.
The province has the most important educational and health centres in the country. Pretoria boasts the largest residential university in South Africa, the University of Pretoria, and what is believed to be the largest correspondence university in the world, the University of South Africa, or Unisa.
Most of South Africa’s research and development takes place in Gauteng, which is home to many of the country’s core biotechnology companies. Leading research institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Agricultural Research Council and the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute are based there.
Although the province is highly urbanised and industrialised, it contains wetlands of international importance, such as Blesbokspruit near Springs.
And it’s home to the Cradle of Humankind, one of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage sites. The region of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and environs has one of the world’s richest concentrations of hominid fossils, evidence of human evolution over the past 3.5-million years.
The most important economic sectors are financial and business services, logistics and communications, and mining.
Gauteng is the financial capital of Africa: more than 70 foreign banks have their head offices in the province, and at least that number of South African banks, stockbrokers and insurance giants. The JSE Ltd in Johannesburg is the largest securities exchange in Africa.
The province’s economy is moving away from traditional heavy industry markets and low value-added production towards sophisticated high value-added production, particularly in information technology, telecoms and other high-tech industries.
The Innovation Hub in Pretoria is Africa’s first internationally accredited science park and a full member of the International Association of Science Parks. Its community has become a regional centre of innovation and knowledge creation, linked to the fast- moving world of global interconnectivity, and made up of small, medium and micro- enterprises and multinational companies, employing over 1 000 people.
The province has the best telecommunications and technology on the continent, with correspondents for the world’s major media stationed here, as well as South Africa’s five television stations. It also has the highest concentration of radio, internet and print media in Africa.
Manufacturing includes basic iron and steel, fabricated and metal products, food, machinery, electrical machinery, appliances and electrical supplies, vehicle parts and accessories, and chemical products.
Gauteng’s agricultural sector is geared to provide the cities and towns of the province with daily fresh produce. A large area of the province falls within the so-called Maize Triangle. The districts of Bronkhorstspruit, Cullinan and Heidelberg hold important agricultural land, where ground-nuts, sunflowers, cotton and sorghum are produced.
Food, food processing and beverages make up a significant part of the province’s economy, with half of South Africa’s agriprocessing companies operating in Gauteng.
New and competitive niche products under development include organic food, essential oils, packaging, floriculture, medicinal plants, natural remedies and health foods.
SouthAfrica.info reporter, incorporating material from the South African Yearbook
Updated: 31 October 2015
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