It all started in 1886 when George Harrison, an Australian prospector, found traces of gold on the Witwatersrand. Mining quickly became the preserve of wealthy magnates, or Randlords, who had made their fortunes at the Kimberley diamond fields.
Within three years Jo’burg had become Southern Africa’s leading metropolis. It was a boisterous city where fortune-seekers of all colours lived it up in bars and brothels. The Boers, the Transvaal government and the president, Paul Kruger, regarded these people with deep distrust. Laws were passed to effectively ensure that only Boers had the right to vote, and laws were also passed to control the movement of blacks. The tensions between the Randlords and uitlanders (foreigners) on one side, and the Transvaal government on the other, were crucial factors in the events that led to the 1899–1902 Anglo-Boer War.
Under increasing pressure in the countryside, thousands of blacks moved to the city in search of jobs. Racial segregation had become entrenched during the interwar years, and from the 1930s onwards, vast squatter camps had developed around the outskirts of Jo’burg. Under black leadership these camps became well-organised cities.
Apartheid officially took hold during the 1950s, but this didn’t prevent the arrival of black squatters in their thousands, and the city expanded further. Large-scale violence finally broke out in 1976, when the Soweto Students’ Representative Council organised protests against the use of Afrikaans in black schools.
The most important change in the city’s history came with the removal of apartheid and the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Since then, the black townships have been integrated into the municipal government system, the city centre is alive with hawkers and street stalls, and the suburbs are becoming increasingly multiracial.
In 2016 entrepreneur Herman Mashaba from the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) became Jo'burg's mayor, unseating the ANC's dominance in the city's political structure.