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Johannesburg city profile | city data

The Johannesburg-Gauteng city-region straddles the developed and developing world, and serves as a creative, cultural and commercial gateway to the rest of Africa. It is a driver and hub for cultural and creative production, generating new cultural forms.

City data: Key facts

Geographical area: 18,178 sq. km

Total population: 11,328,203

Percentage of total national population living in the city: 22.40 %

Working age population: 6,833,217

Number of households: 3,175,579

Foreign born population: 5.70 %

Education level - with degree level or higher: 32 %

Average income per capita per year (ppp): 11,591

Median gross weekly earnings (ppp): 184

GDP (ppp) (million): US$ 175,956

Creative industries employment: 4.50 %

City Portrait

Johannesburg-Gauteng* is uniquely positioned as a city-region that straddles the developed and developing world, and serves as a creative, cultural and commercial gateway to the rest of the continent. It is a driver and hub for cultural and creative production, generating new cultural forms, new modes of production and consumption, and new organisational and business models.

Johannesburg’s attitude to cultural development is shaped by its desire to boost participation among the other 90 per cent. It has sought to do so particularly through promoting festivals and carnival programming, and the development of cultural infrastructure in under-served parts of the city-region. While the creation of new infrastructure has been a priority, new considerations related to investment in people and activity and the maximising of existing infrastructure are increasingly being foregrounded.

There have been several major developments in cultural facilities since 1994. In particular, a ‘new’ heritage infrastructure has been realised, one which better reflects the history of South Africa’s people and the struggle against apartheid. Among the key sites are Constitution Hill, the location of a former prison where Nelson Mandela was once held and now home to three museums and the Constitutional Court; Freedom Park in Tshwane, which includes a memorial and museum telling the story of South Africa; the Hector Pieterson Memorial and museum, which commemorates the history of the Soweto uprising of 1976; the Apartheid Museum; the Maropeng/Cradle of Humankind world heritage site; Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown in Soweto; the Human Rights Precinct in Sedibeng, and Chancellor House, the original office of Nelson Mandela’s law firm. Johannesburg is also building a Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

There are a handful of other cultural venues under development, sometimes undertaken in partnership with the private sector. They include a new art gallery in Sandton and a Centre for Contemporary Design on the east end of the old inner city. The most notable is the Soweto theatre. This striking building is the first theatre to be built in a township, and is part of an effort to raise the quality of life in Soweto to compare with the rest of Johannesburg. It contains three theatre spaces, the largest of which has 630 seats, and an outdoor amphitheatre, which can accommodate 3,500. It will be a flagship for the growth in cultural activity Soweto is seeing.

Like most other world cities Johannesburg-Gauteng is also keen to promote festivals and events: examples include Joburg Art Fair, Dance Umbrella, Joy of Jazz, and Arts Alive, as well as carnivals and the Food-Wine-Design Fair. There are also efforts underway to improve libraries and strengthen arts development organisations.

The city-region has also developed a number of creative and cultural ‘precincts’ – neighbourhoods with a mix of residential, retail and office developments which act as hubs for the incubation, production and consumption of creative and cultural goods and services. These precincts – Newtown, Maboneng, Auckland Park, and Juta Street are perhaps the best-known – involve a mix of public and private investment and bring together informal and formal culture, embodying some of the most dynamic aspects of Johannesburg’s culture.

In some sectors, such as music, dance and film, a ‘Nollywood’ model of production is emerging, based on low-cost but large-scale production, aimed primarily at a domestic (or Africa-wide) audience. (Nollywood is the nickname for the Nigerian film industry, which pioneered this model.) As Africa grows richer, such models have the potential to create distinctively African forms of mass culture. The economic value of these industries is increasingly being recognised in Johannesburg, a city which suffers from high rates of under-employment and unemployment.

Much attention has been given to research and policymaking in Johannesburg and Gauteng over the last decade. One of the results of this has been an ambitious and ongoing programme of public art development in the Johannesburg Metro based on a percent for art model. Another area that has received major attention is creative and cultural industries development. A mapping study in 2008 generated an evidence base for a Creative Industries Development Framework for the city-region. This has led to targeted support from the Gauteng government for a range of industry development initiatives and institutions such as the Gauteng Film Commission, the Joburg Art Fair, Moshito (a music business think-tank-cum-expo) and SA Fashion Week, all of which have played a powerful role in promoting Gauteng as a nexus for both creative commerce and business intelligence.

The rationalisation of the city-region’s strategic heritage and cultural tourism infrastructure and the collaboration between government departments responsible for tourism and arts and culture, has sought to give impetus to the review and implementation of the aforementioned framework. The development of a national Heritage and Cultural Tourism Strategy, designed to guide and provide direction to the development and promotion of heritage and cultural tourism, has also brought related policy and marketing issues into sharper focus within the city-region. Cultural tourism is now being prioritised through the implementation of the Gauteng Tourism Sector Strategy.

For the city-region, culture has often been a way to address some of the bitter legacies of its singular history. The challenge for it now is to find ways to effectively tap into the other potential benefits culture can offer its people, while not neglecting its ‘healing’ role in society. Its policymakers, artists and audiences have the opportunity to reimagine the city – to follow their own path to create something unique.

* Johannesburg now forms part of one continuous urban development which includes three Metros (Johannesburg, shwane and Ekurhuleni) and two District Municipalities (Sedibeng and West Rand) within the Gauteng province, and a number of municipalities around Gauteng. This emergent megacity has acquired a distinct identity as the Gauteng City Region and has become increasingly important in policymaking terms.