There is a lot that can be said about life in Johannesburg, but by all accounts, a fitting way of thinking of it is metropolitan life, but pushed to extremes. This encompasses the good and the bad: in Johannesburg, you will experience the division between rich and poor in a much more pronounced manner than in most other places. You will see urban sprawl of huge dimensions, a great multitude of different ethnicities and cultures, and unfortunately, health and crime issues that also reach rare extremes.
With that said, no experience of living in Johannesburg is quite like another. The city offers a multitude of opportunities and faces, some of which are indeed undesirable, but many others of which make for a fascinating time as an expat abroad.
Johannesburg is the most populous city in South Africa. At the time of the latest census conducted in 2014, roughly 4.3 million people were living in Johannesburg. Not only expats, but also many people coming to Johannesburg and its metro area from other, economically weak provinces keep the numbers rising.
In terms of ethnicity — still an important aspect in post-Apartheid South Africa — roughly three quarters of the population were of African descent. Another 16% identified as whites, with coloureds and Asians, mainly due to a numerously represented Indian community, accounting for 6% and 4% of the population, respectively. Our article on living in South Africa has further information on this classification as well as the cultural backgrounds of these heterogeneous groups.
Expats living in Johannesburg can expect to hear a variety of languages — a fairly unsurprising fact given the variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the population of Johannesburg and South Africa as a whole. Speakers of all of the nation’s eleven official languages live in Johannesburg, although in wildly varying numbers. While the most important and significant language, at least for business and corporate life, is undoubtedly English, it is by far not the most widespread first language.
As of the last census, most widespread mother tongues were Sotho and Nguni languages, with more than half of the population of the city between them. English came in third, with about a fifth of the population considering it their first language. It is, however, entirely possible to get by with good command of the English language alone. You will only very rarely, if ever, get into situations in which you will not be understood. This holds especially true for the expat-heavy and professional circles many of you will probably frequent.
One thing is certain: no matter what your interests are, you will surely find a great way to spend your leisure time in Johannesburg. Sports buff? Go enjoy soccer, rugby, or cricket matches of some of South Africa’s biggest names in Africa’s most modern arenas. Interested in the nation’s past? There are museums commemorating the gold rush that led to the founding of the city as well as several dealing specifically with the nation’s troubled Apartheid past, notably the Mandela Museum in Soweto, a former township.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site dubbed “cradle of humankind” is also right outside of town — known worldwide for being the place where the oldest hominid skeletons were found. Of course, art connoisseurs living in Johannesburg are also in for a treat, namely the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Life in Johannesburg obviously does not stop at dusk, and the city’s bustling nightlife surely caters to every taste.
Johannesburg has a fairly mild climate with lots and lots of sunshine and a heightened rate of precipitation in the summer months from October to April. The rest of the year tends to be fairly dry. Due to the altitude of the city (elevated about 1750 m), living in Johannesburg is a viable option for expats who have trouble dealing with heat: temperatures average around 25°C in the summertime. Although it is a fairly uncommon sight in the city, expats should definitely make sure to stock up on warm clothes in case of snowfall.
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