Johannesburg & Surrounds



In the 1880’s, the richest gold deposits in the world were discovered in Sandton. Although it is not apparent today, Sandton City wasn’t always the economic centre of South Africa. In fact it only opened its doors in 1973. Before then it was primarily farmland waiting to be developed into the the metropolis it is today. The CBD of Johannesburg was originally the economic centre but from the mid 1970’s businesses and corporations began to migrate about 15km to the north. Today, Sandton is Africa’s richest square mile

Archaeological findings suggest the area, which Sandton comprises today, had originally been occupied by various indigenous groups, before European settlement, most notably the Tswana and, to a lesser extent, Sotho people. The remains of an Iron Age smelter was discovered in Lone Hill, a suburb of northern Sandton. One of the first Voortrekker parties to settle in the area were the Esterhuysen family on the farm Zandfontein (Afrikaans and Dutch for Sandy Spring or Sand Fountain). A monument to commemorate them may be found just off Adrienne Street in Sandown where the family cemetery is located.

In the 1960’s, Nelson Mandela was captured by South African police in the area. Tried for treason in what became known as the ‘Rivonia Trial’, which derives its name from the locality of Rivonia and includes Liliesleaf Farm, home of the conspirators. Nelson and his co-conspirators were captured at or near Liliesleaf Farm, privately owned by Arthur Goldreich, on 11 July 1963. The farm had been used as a hideout for the African National Congress and others. Among others, Nelson Mandela had moved onto the farm in October 1961 and evaded security police while masquerading as a gardener and cook called David Motsamayi (meaning "the walker"). The trial was memorable for Nelson Mandela’s speech in which he stated -‘During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’- and for the verdict in which the presiding judge Dr. Quartus de Wet gave the defendants life sentences instead of the death penalty as was anticipated by many. Image the difference in the world today if the judge had decided to impose the death penalty.

In 1969 the Johannesburg Town Council proclaimed a new municipality, which they called “Sandton”, a name derived from suburbs Sandown and Bryanston, and it was rezoned in recognition of the need for another town centre in Johannesburg.One of the main attractions in Sandton is Sandton City, which ranks among the largest shopping centres in Africa. Together with Nelson Mandela Square, the centre, with some 144,000 m2 of shopping space, is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Much of Johannesburg's business tourism is centred on Sandton, which has a string of 5-star hotels.

It was recently announced by Liberty Properties that Sandton City will receive a R1,77-billion upgrade. Liberty Properties chief executive Samuel Ogbu has envisaged the complex as South Africa's very own Wall Street "Africa is not for sissies, but we have a bold vision, which is to see the Sandton City precinct as our own Wall Street." The redevelopment will include the construction of a 60-storey office tower, a new hotel, new retail and office space and residential apartments. The 60-storey office tower will be the tallest building in Africa, replacing the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg CBD. The extension will stretch to 30 000 m2 and the total complex will have a gross lettable area of 158 000 m2. London-based RTKL Associates have been chosen to design the complex.

Nelson Mandela Square, formerly known as Sandton Square, was renamed in March 2004, after the unveiling of a 6-metre bronze statue of the former South African president. Perhaps ironically, Liliesleaf Farm, where Nelson Mandela lived in the early 1960s and where many leading political activists were arrested in 1963 and tried as part of the now infamous Rivonia Trial, is just north of Nelson Mandela Square, close to the N1 Highway, off Rivonia Road.

Some of the other tourist attractions in Sandton include Liliesleaf Farm which is now a museum with guides and video presentations. For more information, visit If you are interested in South African flora then perhaps a visit to Johannesburg Botanical Gardens would be an enjoyable excursion. Learn more at Perhaps you have an interest in birds or maybe enjoy the glitz and glamour of a casino or both. If so then a trip to Monte Casino is recommended. You will find an aviary with over 60 species of bird as well as small mammals and antelope. For more info visit In addition, Monte Casino boasts 30 restaurants, a piazza, a live theatre, movies, a 10 pin bowling alley and much more.


Lesedi is located in the heart of the African bushveld amidst the rocky hills within the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site. You will be able to observe cultures and traditions of the people of Africa. Within the grounds of Lesedi they have recreated five traditional homesteads inhabited by Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele tribes. During a guided tour of these homesteads you will be instructed in the ways and relationships of the various tribes. This is usually followed by traditional dancing in a ‘theatre-type’ building known as a Boma. In addition, Lesedi provides overnight accommodation in ‘Rondavels’, small round cottages, and dining in a restaurant with fascinating African décor. If you ever wondered what African life was like a few hundred years ago before the arrival of Europeans, Lesedi will give you an idea.
Cradle Of Humankind View Resized

The Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa. Here, the landscape is dotted with subterranean limestone caves that have turned up a rich fossil record for human evolutionary studies, which lend credence to the 'Out of Africa' theory of where our ancestors came from.
Archaeological finds within the Cradle of Humankind include two-million-year-old stone tools. About 50km north-west of Johannesburg is the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, an area of undulating grassland, rocky outcrops and river courses typical of the Highveld before it was overtaken by urban sprawl.

It’s a place that draws visitors from around the world for the fossil record that lies in the network of limestone caves beneath the surface.

Here you’ll find the Sterkfontein Caves, Swartkrans and Kromdraai, among other fossil sites, all places that tell the story of what the world was like when our human ancestors were evolving some two to three million years ago.
At the Sterkfontein Caves alone, the remains of more than 500 hominids (the hominid family includes modern-day humans and their direct ancestors) have been uncovered, lending credence to the ‘Out of Africa’ theory, which is that humans and their ancestors evolved in Africa first. So rich is this hominid fossil record that the area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, one of eight in South Africa.

Fossils were first unearthed here in the 1890s when the caves were blasted open for lime needed for the extraction of gold discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886.

But it was only from the 1930s that serious scientific work started to take place.

One of the first major discoveries was that of 'Mrs Ples', a pre-human skull dating back more than 2-million years (Australopithecus africanus) unearthed by Professor Robert Broom and his assistant, John Robinson, in 1947 at the Sterkfontein Caves.
The skull was originally classified as Plesianthropus transvaalensis (hence the name) and was an adult version of the same species as the Taung Child, the tiny fossilised skull of a child about three years old that had been found at the Taung limeworks in what is now the North West province, and identified by Professor Raymond Dart in 1924.

Although smaller than us, Australopithecus africanus is regarded as one of our early ancestors because it walked upright. In 1997, a complete hominid skeleton called 'Little Foot', also found in the Sterkfontein Caves, was introduced to the world and is still in the process of being described.
Entrance Cradle Of Humankind
In 2005, two more areas of significance were added to this World Heritage Site, bringing the number of official fossil sites in the Cradle of Humanking to 13. These were Makapan (in Limpopo) and Taung (in the North West province). Together all these areas are now known as the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, recognised by UNESCO for their significance in human evolutionary studies.

You'll find a small but good exhibition centre at the Sterkfontein Caves and a much larger, more interactive one at Maropeng.
Who was Mrs. Ples?

Who was Mrs. Ples?

Mrs. Ples is the popular nickname for the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus ever found. Many Australopithecus fossils have been found near Sterkfontein, about 40 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, in a region of Guateng now designated as the Cradle of HumankindWorld Heritage Site. Mrs. Ples was discovered by Robert Broom and John T. Robinson on April 18, 1947. Because of Broom's use of dynamite and pickaxe while excavating, Mrs. Ples’ skull was blown into two pieces and some fragments are missing. Nonetheless, Mrs./Mr. Ples is one of the most perfect pre-human skulls ever found. Why was this find so significant? Because it supported the hypothesis proposed by Dr. Raymond Dart that Australopithecus africanus was a hominid species – a possible human ancestor. He discovered the ‘Taung Child’in 1924 and suggested that the skull indicated that it’s owner had walked upright due to the placement of foramen magnum (a void in the cranium where the spinal cord is continuous with the brain) as it was located beneath the cranium, showing that the creature stood upright. The scientific world shunned Raymond Dart, disagreeing with his suggestions that the Taung Child was a possible early human ancestor and Robert Broom had been the only supporter of Dart’s hypothesis for years. The Taung Child probably was killed by an eagle or other large predatory bird, judging by the similarity of damage to the skull and eye sockets of the Taung Child to that seen in modern primates known to have been killed by eagles. Entrance Cradle of humankind 2 2 The nickname ″Mrs. Ples″ was coined by Broom's young co-workers. It derives from the scientific designation Plesianthropus transvaalensis (near-man from the Transvaal), that Broom initially gave the skull, later subsumed into the species Australopithecus africanus. In scientific publications the specimen is referred to by its catalogue number, STS 5 The genus Australopithecus, of which there are several species, is considered the likely precursor of the genus Homo, to which all humanity belongs. Though its cranium is comparable to a chimpanzee's, Australopithecus walked upright, as humans do. This was a surprise to anthropologists at the time, because it had been assumed that the big brain of Homo had preceded, or at least evolved in tandem with our upright gait. Mrs. Ples, whose cranial capacity is only about 485 cubic centimeters, was one of the first fossils to reveal that upright walking had evolved well before any significant growth in brain size.

The sex of the specimen is not completely certain and so Mrs. Ples may in fact be Mr. Ples. Moreover, X-ray analysis of the specimen's teeth (see below) has suggested it was an adolescent. Hence a designation of Miss Ples or Master Ples is also possible.

The paleoanthropologist, Prof. Federick E. Grine, has studied the dental morphology of Mrs./Mr. Ples with a view to finally establishing Mrs./Ms. Ples' sex. Using the Computed Tomography (CT) scans of STS 5 from the experiments of Weber et. al., they compared them to CT scans of more recently discovered A. africanus skulls from Sterkfontein. These scans allowed Grine to reconstruct images of the roots of the teeth, in order to see how the molar and canine teeth developed. This study concluded that Mrs./Mr. Ples was indeed a middle-aged female. However, the question is not entirely settled, since other studies have come to the opposite conclusion.

Some experts have suggested that a partial skeleton, known only by its catalogue number of STS 14, which was discovered in the same year, in the same geological deposit and in proximity to Mrs. Ples, may belong to this skull. If correct, this would make Mrs. Ples the South African counterpart to the famous Lucy fossil. This skull, along with others discovered at Taung, Sterkfontein, and Makapangsgat offered compelling evidence in favour of Charles Darwin's hypothesis that humanity's origin lay in Africa.

The fossil has been dated by a combination of palaeomagnetism and uranium-lead techniques to around 2.05 million years.