Johannesburg is finally getting its day in the sun. Just three years
after South Africa joined the BRIC countries (changing its moniker to BRICS) and successfully
hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup,
the city is reaping the benefits of increased revenue and changing global
perceptions. The sporting event alone had nearly a 40 million
rand economic impact on the city.
The 2013 Anholt-GfK Roper City Brand Index, an annual survey measuring the national image of countries, recently
ranked the South African city 44th in its list of the world's 50 top
business cities, moving up one spot from 2012, an indication that Johannesburg’s
reputation for being violent and dangerous is fading. Similarly, the third annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, released in June 2013, ranked Johannesburg as the most popular
destination in Africa, with a projected 2.54 million international visitors in
2013, up 53.6% from 2009. This substantial increase means it is one of the
fastest growing cities in the world.
Joburg or Jozi (the two names commonly given to the
city by locals) is the third largest city by population on the African
continent (surpassed by Cairo, Egypt, and Lagos, Nigeria). It was also the home
of the late Nelson Mandela for a number of years, who continued to promote the
image of the city while spreading a message of hope and peace globally. His
recent passing will no doubt fuel increased interest in the city as tourists
plan visits to pay their respects.
While Joburg’s distance from other major world centres
is often a hurdle for international visitors, passenger traffic passing through
the city’s main airport OR Tambo International is expected
to reach 24 million annual travellers by 2015, up from 19 million in 2012.
National carrier South African
Airways flies to
cities throughout Africa and connects the continent to the rest of the world
with daily flights to New York, Washington DC, Sao Paulo, Mumbai and Beijing
among others. The airline’s recently updated business class lounge provides
exceptional views of the runway and a separate arrivals lounge for inbound
passengers looking to refresh after a long flight. New flat-bed seating on its
long-haul aircraft is an appreciated perk for flights that can often range
between 10 and 14 hours as they crisscross between hemispheres.
nearly 55 international airlines fly to Johannesburg, making it one of the
easiest cities to access on the African continent. The airport has
been undergoing significant refurbishment to handle the massive Airbus A-380
aircraft flown by airlines such as Air France, British Airways, Emirates and
Lufthansa, bringing even more passengers with every flight.
The Gautrain, Africa's first and only
high-speed rail system and a symbol of the city's progress, opened in 2009, connecting
the airport with all corners of Joburg, including the popular Sandton business
district. With only two stops en route, the 20-minute, 125 rand journey is a
better option than the 200 rand, 30km taxi ride that can take up to an hour
depending upon traffic.
About 10km south of Sandton in the historic Westcliff neighbourhood, the Four Seasons is set to open its first South
African property, the 117-room Four Seasons Hotel Westcliff, in mid-2014. With room
balconies that offer panoramic views of the Johannesburg Zoo, this is as close as some
business guests may get to South Africa’s wilder residents, including elephants,
giraffes and rhinos. Plans for the
hotel include a day spa, plentiful meeting space with high-tech business
features, and a formal restaurant helmed by a yet-unnamed celebrity chef.
The Saxon Hotel,
Villas and Spa
is a garden-like oasis shrouded in tall trees and flower
blossoms set on 10 acres in the Sandhurst neighbourhood, 1km west of Sandton.
The hotel, once a private home, hosted the late Nelson Mandela as he completed
his autobiography, Long Walk to
Freedom. Today, diners at the hotel's Qunu Grill are treated to an elegant
African grill experience under the helm of chef David Higgs as they nosh on
plates of curried lamb shoulder, peri-peri chicken and biltong-spiced springbok
loin. In June 2013 the restaurant launched a business lunch menu promising a full
meal in less than 60 minutes, or the tab is on them.
Sandton's latest entrant is The Maslow, a hip, designer
offering by the Sun International
hotel group that opened at the end of 2012, offering 283 rooms in an urban park setting.
Shrouded by dense greenery and palm trees, the hotel wraps around a garden with
a cosy swimming pool and popular bar. Within walking distance of major office
branches and shops, the hotel is a favourite of young travellers looking for
free wireless internet and a trendy environment. Its boutique spa includes treatments
by local brand Africology and offers a
unique Rasul steam chamber treatment where guests slather mud on themselves to
detox from a day of stress. The chic lobby features modern seating with
international power outlets discreetly placed at the base of each.
Marriott's interest in South
Africa was recently accelerated with the announcement that the brand plans to
acquire the business-focused South African chain Protea Hotels in mid-2014, marking Marriott’s
first presence in the country. The 197-room Protea Fire &
Ice! hotel in the Melrose Arch neighbourhood, 5km south of Sandton, will be a welcome
addition to Marriott's portfolio of brands with its distinctive Hollywood decor featuring large
photographs of famous actors and memorabilia from movie sets scattered about
the public areas. Its location also puts guests squarely in a neighbourhood filled
with restaurants and boutiques that showcase Joburg's creative side.
Lacuna, at The Maslow, is
an all-day bistro that draws in Sandton's business crowds. The open kitchen
showcases the action from the hotel's executive chef Dallas Orr, who came from
the well-known Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town. The
restaurant and terrace especially heats up after work when corporate bigwigs
descend from the office towers to relax with a drink and appetizers in the
hotel's garden bar to the sounds of live music. On Sundays, Lacuna hosts a
traditional South African braai
(barbecue), serving regional favourites such as boerewors (sausage composed of pork, beef and spices) and krummelpap (a crumb porridge eaten with
The Butcher Shop and Grill on the edge of Nelson Mandela
Square, a public courtyard and shopping centre in Sandton, is a favourite of
tourists and locals alike. As its name would suggest, the restaurant serves
cuts of prime beef, but goes beyond the typical steak with regional fare such
as tender ostrich fillet, marinated venison and South African kingklip (cusk eel imported from the
coast). Arrive early to snag a table overlooking the square's dancing fountains
and the gigantic statue of Madiba himself.
For a more adventurous meal, venture
to Moyo in the Melrose Arch neighbourhood.
This home-grown restaurant chain prepares a variety of African game and seafood
in an energetic and colourful environment. Like Johannesburg itself, the menu
is a fusion of regional cultures. Masks, mounted animal heads and photographs
line the walls as diners nosh on dishes such as kudu sirloin, springbok carpaccio
and ostrich barbecue. While it is a tad touristy, South Africans have grown
fond of the restaurant's menu and are quick to take visiting friends and
The new Nelson Mandela Centre of
Memory, opened in August 2013 in Houghton (near Mandela's home), is an
interactive museum and permanent cultural exhibition dedicated to Mandela’s life
and teachings of peace; an excellent pairing to a visit to the Apartheid Museum, which is located 15km south
of Sandton. On display is the furniture from his post-presidential office and
many of his personal belongings and papers. Entry to the museum is free, but
visitors must make an appointment in advance as the facility is compact and
demand has understandably soared in recent months.
Visitors can also visit the Mandela House Museum in Soweto township (15km south
of Sandton and located on perhaps the only street in the world that has been
home to two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Mandela and Desmond Tutu). Entry to
the modest home costs 60 rand and showcases many of Mandela’s personal
possessions including his personal library, photos and gifts from foreign heads
The new Maboneng (meaning
"place of light") district, 15km south of Sandton, is a burgeoning
neighbourhood churning out new boutiques, cafes and a slew of residential loft-style
apartments. Labelled as an integrated urban neighbourhood, this is the city's next
up-and-coming area thanks to its youthful residents and private
investment. Live music and outdoor markets are common, especially on the
weekends, and galleries and studios are luring in the artsy type.
Some travellers may quickly rush to the conclusion that Johannesburg is unsafe.
But there is little need for concern, especially in Sandton, if common sense is
adhered to during the day. Avoid wearing flashy jewellery, and it is advisable to
hail a taxi from a hotel. During the evening hours, it is best not to walk
alone, and most hotels offer free shuttles to nearby shopping malls and Gautrain
stations. Try to avoid the less gentrified areas of the inner city downtown at