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A Brief History of Johannesburg

-   in a timeline   -

Ferreira's Gold Mine in 1886 Johannesburg


The main Witwatersrand gold reef was discovered that triggered the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the start of Johannesburg in 1886.


The discovery of gold rapidly attracted people to the area, making necessary a name and governmental organisation for the area.  The first settlement known as ferreira's camp was crowded with tents and wagons from across southern Africa.  The tent town eventually became known as Ferreira’s Camp

The first building to go up in Johannesburg, the Central Hotel, was located in Ferreira’s Camp.  The first barber shop, the first bar, the first pub and the first brothel were all opened in Ferreira's Camp.  It was also the location of the first bank branch on the Witwatersrand gold fields, when Standard Bank started doing business in a tent in Ferreira's Camp.



Following upon the establishment of Johannesburg, the first settlement at Ferreira's  Camp soon reached a population of 3000 inhabitants.  The area was taken over by the Government who had it surveyed and named Ferreira's Township, today the suburb of Ferreirasdorp.  

Ferreira's Camp in 1886 Johannesburg



Johannesburg grew to a population of over 100,000 inhabitants, one of the fastest growth cities ever recorded.



The first motorcar drives through Johannesburg and Nkosi Sikelel 'iAfrika is composed by Enoch Sontonga.



There is an outbreak of hostilities between the Boers and the British.



The British forces occupied Johannesburg on 30 May and are handed over the keys to the city on Government Square (now Gandhi Square) after a series of battles to the south-west of the city.



The Boer soldiers, who did not give up, became the first to use guerrilla warfare and eventually surrendered by May 1902, and the Province, known as the Transvaal, fell totally under English control.


South Africa was declared a Union, which resulted in a more structured mining industry, but also resulted in harsh racial divides being implemented - divides that 38 years later would give birth to Apartheid. 


The African National Congress (ANC) was founded ​as a result of many grievances.  This included black dissatisfaction with the South Africa Act of 1910 that established the Union of South Africa, their treatment after the South African War and numerous laws that restricted their freedom.



The first official radio broadcast takes place in Johannesburg.


The first traffic light is installed in Johannesburg.



Major building developments take place in Johannesburg after South Africa goes off the gold standard.


The Nationalist Party implement the policy of Apartheid, relocating thousands of black people to rural areas and introducing pass laws to restrict their movement. 

Hillbrow goes high-rise with residential blocks.  



The apartheid government construct the agglomeration of townships south of the city which becomes known as Soweto.  New freeways encourage massive suburban sprawl to the north of the city.



The African National Congress (ANC) is banned by the apartheid government.



The city of Johannesburg booms.  Construction of high-rise buildings include the Carlton Centre, Hillbrow Tower and residential block Ponte City.  

The Soweto Uprising against Apartheid government’s discriminatory education policies is a milestone event.  When South African police force members open fire on unarmed children they unintentionally start to bring about an end to Apartheid. 



States of emergency declared, violence erupting in the townships, street battles against the apartheid police, detentions without trial for political activists, tightening sanctions and heightened state security.


The central area of the CBD undergoes something of a decline due to the high crime rate and property speculators direct large amounts of capital into suburban shopping malls, decentralized office parks, and entertainment centres.


State President FW De Klerk makes a momentous announcement to unban banned organisations and to release political prisoners, among them the world’s best known prisoner, Nelson Mandela.  


South Africa holds its first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela is elected President of a free country.

CID's (central improvement districts) in the inner city are formed where property owners pay additional levies to complement existing municipal services in order to improve the urban environment.


Vanderbijl Square is renamed to Gandhi Square and redeveloped.  

CID's have proven to be a major success in the revitalization of Johannesburg CBD, which still continue to this day.

The revitalization and rejuvenation of Johannesburg inner city took a giant leap forward when the city officially launched the Johannesburg Inner City Roadmap for 2040.

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