The name of the province, Gauteng, means “the place where the gold is,” in seSotho. And that’s really what this tiny, very densely populated and extremely urbanised province is all about – gold. Gold and money. Many of the head offices of South African companies are here, the stock exchange is here, and Johannesburg is the financial and business hub of Africa, as well as being the gateway to the continent. It’s a fast-paced city where people work hard and play hard. So, in between the high rises, office blocks and malls, there are some great music venues and a vast array of restaurants, pubs, clubs and coffee shops.
The smaller, less fast-paced city of Pretoria, which is rapidly becoming joined to Johannesburg to create an ever-growing megalopolis, is the capital of South Africa and the seat of government for half the year. And even most of the smaller towns seem to be extensions of the Pretoria-Johannesburg conurbation. There is a surprising amount of open space around Johannesburg, and many residential estates on the outskirts of the city are built around golf courses or equestrian centres. There are also a number of small game reserves, the Vaal River and Dam and, of course, the Cradle of Humankind.
The Cradle of Humankind is the site of the discovery of the skull of the australopithecine, Mrs Ples, who revolutionised the accepted view of human evolution in the 1940s and 1950s. There have been numerous fossils found in the many archaeological sites making up the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site since then, and the Highveld is generally regarded as the place where humans evolved.Of course, we probably evolved over a huge area, but the conditions at the Cradle were ideal for the preservation of fossils, so it is here that the bulk of the evidence remains.