The low-down on the best places to visit in Johannesburg, by Janine Stein
1 Apartheid Museum The museum is as determined to keep alive the memory of a hated system as the new South Africa is to move beyond a dreadful legacy. And, even if make-believe, visitors are hurled into the core of apartheid the minute they hand over their entrance fee. First, in a bid to emulate the old racial classification system, the ticket determines whether visitors are 'white' or 'non-white'. Today, everyone enters through the same door. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, 'non-whites' went around the back, if they were allowed in at all rather than spat upon and unceremoniously ejected. That's just the beginning of a tour housed in a 6,000-square-metre complex said to be the most important public building built in South Africa in the past 20 years. The 121 nooses swinging from the ceiling bear gruesome testament to political prisoners executed by the apartheid regime. Tear gas, police bullets, resistance marches, prejudice, abuse, suffering, destruction ... and, finally, hope in the post-apartheid Constitution that is one of the final exhibits. The Apartheid Museum is adjacent to Gold Reef City, south of Johannesburg (corner of Northern Parkway and Gold Reef Road, Ormonde, 2001. Tel: [27 11] 309 4700; www.apartheidmuseum.org).
2 Gold Reef City The five-kilometre trip from Johannesburg city centre is worth making twice: the first to the Apartheid Museum and the second to Gold Reef City, which is as bright and lively an entertainment experience as the museum is a grim reminder of the country's recent past. The official name is the Gold Reef City Casino and Theme Park, which is some indication of where its priorities lie. However, in addition to the casino (one of a rash of gaming complexes that have sprung up around the capital), Gold Reef City is the best celebration of everything that shaped Johannesburg - from the gold rush days of the late 1890s and early 1900s, complete with an underground bar and replica mining houses, to a modern-day funfair with the country's longest and scariest roller coaster, gumboot dancing displays and a mint where visitors can buy Kruger rands - South Africa's most valuable icon apart from Nelson Mandela. There are also about 15 museums dedicated to everything from turn-of-the-century toilets to circus acts. Although Gold Reef City is a prime tourist destination, the complex is not short of local families enjoying a day out, particularly at weekends (Gold Reef City Entertainment, tel: [27 11] 248 6813; Gold Reef City Casino, tel: [27 11] 248 5000, www.grcc.co.za; Gold Reef City Protea Hotel, tel: [27 11] 248 5700. The official address is the corner of Northern Parkway and Data Crescent, Ormonde, 2008, www.goldreefcity.co.za; but the area is not as well known as its major attraction. Simply ask for Gold Reef City and you're much more likely to get accurate directions).
3 Newtown Cultural Precinct The Newtown area is a must, including MuseuMAfricA, housed in the city's old fruit and vegetable market at the core of the redevelopment scheme, and the Market Theatre, which was through the apartheid years (and remains so today) a bastion of liberal arts and culture. The theatre is where Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) recorded his four-minute Johannesburg peace song in March 2003. If the Apartheid Museum focuses on the harrowing political era that continues to define South Africa, MuseuMAfricA takes a more cultural, social and economic line, tracing musical heritage, the city's gold-mining and musical history among its numerous installations. Politics is, of course, included in a 'road to democracy' display and 'Gandhi's Johannesburg', which pinpoints areas of Johannesburg associated with the Mahatma and his 'passive resistance' movement. Culinary culture has not been ignored: traditional South African food can be had at Gramadoelas restaurant (Market Theatre Complex, corner Bree and Wolhuter Streets, Newtown. Tel: [27 11] 838 6960). Amid today's crime and violence (and warnings of what can happen to hapless visitors who wander unprotected into the city centre), the Newtown area is one of the efforts held up as a positive example of what the new South Africa is achieving. Once you're in the city centre, stop by the African herbalist shops in Diagonal Street, which are as much attractions as living, breathing modern testaments to the belief that bones, skins and ancient potions doled out by traditional healers (sangomas) can work magic (corner Bree and Wolhuter Streets, Newtown. Tel: [27 11] 833 5624/5).
4 Moyo Moyo is in Melrose Arch, where the loud-and-proud African experience stretches from chi-chi brunch Tanzanian-style to Moroccan cocktails to live music until late. The decor is a multi-culture, multi-country, ultra-out-there affair that takes in five levels and numerous rooms, including lounges, a cigar bar and indoor and outdoor seating areas, and a bar area adorned by Johannesburg's bold and beautiful. The restaurant describes its look as 'dizfunkchanel design', whatever that means. Moyo is part of an upmarket avant-garde security-conscious suburban trend that is as much a part of today's South Africa as the high crime rate. Like all restaurants in South Africa, a meal at Moyo stretches the dollar beyond belief: a full meal with wine doesn't cost more than US$20 (HK$156) per person (5 Melrose Square, Melrose Arch. Tel: [27 11] 684 1477); www.moyoafrica.co.za).
5 Wandi's Place On the other end of the dining spectrum is Wandi's Place in the Soweto suburb of Dube. One of the formerly illegal shebeens (township bars) that sprung up during the apartheid era, when mixed race anything was banned, Wandi's is as trendy as Moyo in a much more of-the-people way. Pretension isn't part of the menu - mainly hale and hearty mutton, lamb, beef, chicken and vegetable stews and 'pap' (boiled corn meal, served with a tomato-based sauce) - or the decor, which is overwhelmed by a gallery of local and international faces who've paid homage to proprietor Wandi Ndaba's tables. Think Richard Branson, Evander Holyfield, Jesse Jackson, Quincy Jones and the All Blacks. The restaurant was opened in 1981 but the licence to operate came 10 years later as the apartheid era was coming to a close. Prosperity quickly followed. The road to Wandi's - like much of the spirit of Soweto - also leads past the Hector Petersen memorial and museum, which commemorates the life of the first child shot in the 1976 student uprising that eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and the 1994 democratic elections (618 Makhalamele Street, Dube, Soweto. Tel: [27 11] 982 2796).
6 Nightlife The high crime rate makes Johannesburg by night a destination-focused affair; wandering about soaking up the mild climate and starry skies could cost you more than your wallet and your watch. There are more than a few destinations worth taking in. Kilimanjaro is one of the Rainbow Nation club highlights that is part of the Melrose Arch complex (17 The High Street, Melrose Arch. Tel: [27 11] 214 4300; www.clubkilimanjaro.com). Other stops on the regular night-trail are Saints in Rivonia (corner 9th Avenue and Rivonia Boulevard. Tel: [27 11] 803 0093, and Carfax in Newtown (39 Pim Street, Newtown Cultural Precinct, Newtown. Tel: [27 11] 834 9187). Therapy, billed as 'a gay members club for gay people and their friends' and aimed at the more experienced clubbers, is high on the must-do list for the city's gay community (32A Juta Street, Braamfontein. Tel: [27 11] 339 7791). Young people with belly-buttons on display head for Monsoon Lagoon at Caesar's Palace, yet another gambling complex complete with armed guards and secure parking (Caesar's Gauteng, 64 Jones Road, Kempton Park. Tel: [27 11] 928 1280).
7 Rosebank Market Sunday's Rosebank Market in Johannesburg's upmarket northern suburbs green-belt is the mother of all crafts markets, with everything from 100 per cent cotton pyjamas embroidered with African insects and bead-encrusted tin mugs to soapstone carvings and koeksisters (deep-fried plaited dough soaked in syrup). A section housing a more-than-acceptable (if smaller) African crafts section - Christmas shopping heaven with everything from salad bowls and spoons with bone handles to lion carvings and tribal bracelets - is open during the week. The market is in one of Johannesburg's most exclusive shopping areas, which means the ethnic experience can segue to international labels and lifestyle by doing no more than crossing a cobbled courtyard (corners of Baker, Bath and Cradock Roads, Rosebank. Tel: [27 11] 880 2906/[27 11] 788 5530).
8Westcliff Hotel See the city the way the mining 'Rand Lords' did during the gold rush days from the hillside Westcliff Hotel (above), which overlooks (among other vistas) the Johannesburg Zoo. The sunset is particularly spectacular from this vantage point. Book in advance for the high tea experience, which can, if animals are your thing, be preceded by a wander around one of the most - if not the most - progressive zoos in Africa, where cages are an abomination of the past and animal rights, conservation and natural habitat are some of the zoo commandments. The architecture and the ambience is Mediterranean hillside village (rather than the strongly African themes chosen by the even-higher-end hotel, The Saxon), but the view more than makes up for this. The Westcliff is also among the favourites of South Africa's 'medical' tourists, who build plastic surgery into their African adventures via the 'surgeons and safari' movement (67 Jan Smuts Avenue, Westcliff. Tel: [27 11] 646 2400; westcliff.orient-express.com).
9 Monte Casino This is outer Johannesburg's Las Vegas (or rather, Las Vegas' version of Tuscany with roulette wheels). Gambling is the key attraction, but it's possible to spend a few hours in the shopping arcades looking at the works of local artists (portraying everything from the Big Five game animals to township musicians), fingering the tourist tack (nasty prints of African dolls and tribal drums), eating biltong (the local version of beef jerky) or lounging around in one of the many restaurants and bars. Zenbu, an Asia fusion restaurant, is billed as the place to try - if you can bear fusion food eaten a long way from home even if the setting is stylish. There's also a crystal store that locals say has a commendable selection of precious and semi-precious stones available loose or in various bits of jewellery and household decorations (Montecasino Boulevard, corner William Nicol and Witkoppen Roads, Fourways, Sandton. Tel: [27 11] 510 7000; www.tsogosun.co.za/montecasino/index.html).
10 Sun City Resort Sun City Resort is not exactly Johannesburg, but it's close enough. A little more than two hours' drive, and you're in Indiana Jones territory, with bridges that shake and smoke produced on a set timetable (something like every 15 minutes), life-size elephant carvings, a Palace hotel straight off an adventure movie set, a golf course golfers rave about, and, of course, wall-to-wall slot machines and gaming tables. The surrounding area is also packed with private game lodges that will do everything from hot chocolate during dawn game spotting to sunset cocktails with the giraffes. The best are Tchukudu and KwaMaritane. Pilanesburg can offer as close an on-safari experience as is possible without going too far (PO Box 2, Suncity 0316, North West Province. Tel: [27 14] 557 1000; www.suninternational.com/resorts/suncity. The Palace of The Lost City, tel: [27 14] 557 3111).