Africa's Richest Square Mile

Trip Start Aug 15, 2011
Trip End Sep 02, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of South Africa  , Gauteng,
Saturday, August 27, 2011

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and the emphasis is on making money - whether in business or on the streets - and has been since its beginnings when the world’s richest gold fields were discovered in Johannesburg during the 1880s. To an outsider, Johannesburg, or Jo-burg as it’s more commonly known, can be a little daunting, more so because of the misrepresentation by the media of Johannesburg as something of a war zone.  Jo-burg has a fearsome reputation and locals are very candid about how many times they've been shot at.  However, in reality it is not too frightening despite the constant presence of various protections against violence.  For most people the closest sign of the potential violence are the bricked up walls hiding beautiful residential houses, with electric fences and razor wire above them and a sign indicating "armed response."  While we never experienced any problems, we definitely stayed aware at all times and made sure to be very cautious whenever we were outside of our hotel or the tourist areas.

Given the continuing issues with safety in central Johannesburg, it was with relief that we realized our hotel was in Sandton, a prosperous suburb of Jo-burg.  I had read that Sandton is known as "Africa's Richest Square Mile," but nothing prepared me for the sight of Aston Martin and Bentley dealerships lining the streets alongside Manhattan style skyscrapers as we arrived in Sandton.  Our hotel, the Balalaika Crown Court, was right in the heart of all this opulence and a welcome sight after a week of living in safari style accommodations.  This adventure girl was VERY happy to find our room equipped with a flat screen tv, deluxe beds with fluffy pillows and high thread count sheets and high speed internet service!!  Yay!!!

Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton symbolizes revitalized Joburg and is truly spectacular. From designer boutiques and haute cuisine to local curios and cozy coffee shops, this square boasts a massive statue of Nelson Mandela as well as an array of outdoor eateries which serve as a gathering place for people of all ethnicities and economic status.  Right next door, Sandton City Mall is one of those malls where one just cannot resist window shopping.  Jewels, clothes, cars and every luxury item imaginable are available within the mall and it is definitely one of the most luxurious I have ever seen -- even in the US!

It is hard to believe that this sophisticated district, home to the top investment banks, financial consultants, the Johannesburg stock exchange, and one of the biggest convention centres on the continent, was but mere sandy horse trails where the ‘mink and manure set’ lived on wealthy, large estates 50 years ago - small wonder it is known as one of the most opulent areas in Johannesburg. 

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