24 Hours In: Johannesburg

Find out about the history of man - and the history of struggle. You'll learn some wild culinary ideas too


Breakfast with the creatives

07.30: Johannesburg is an early-rising city. Wake up at Melville House (00 27 11 726 3503; themelvillehouse .com), the laid-back bed and breakfast presided over by writer Heidi Holland, who will as often as not share a bottle of wine in the evenings with her clientele of academics, aid workers and journalists. Guests are also encouraged to interact over the generous cooked breakfasts. The pine-floored rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, are spacious, but as Ms Holland says, people who expect sachets of shampoo should probably go elsewhere. Creative types gravitate towards hilly Melville, and the b&b is close to interesting cafés, art galleries and second-hand bookshops.

Remember the bad old days

09.30: Johannesburg has several first-class institutions chronicling the iniquities of the recent past, including the ultra-modern Constitutional Court (00 27 11 381 3100), the highest in the land, built on the site of the notorious Fort Prison. Much of the prison, whose past inmates include Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, has been preserved and can be visited. The Museum of Apartheid (00 27 11 309 4700; apartheidmuseum.org), south of the city, uses interactive displays to bring home the stupidity and cruelty of the white regime. But to understand the gulf that existed - and still exists - between the lives of white and black South Africans, go to Soweto and the memorial to Hector Pieterson, the 13-year-old whose death in the 1976 uprising was captured in a famous photograph. The adjoining museum tells the story of the schoolchildren's revolt, which marked the beginning of the end for apartheid. Within a short walk of the museum are several other landmarks of the struggle, including Vilakazi Street, former home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Rather than venturing into Soweto on your own, hire a guide from Jimmy's Face to Face Tours (00 27 11 331 6109; face2face .co.za), thereby also putting a bit of money into the local economy.

Lunch is served in Soweto

12.00: Take your guide to an early lunch at Wandie's Place (00 27 11 982 2796), a Soweto institution. It began as a shebeen (illegal drinking den) in 1981, but Wandie Ndaba's selling point was that his establishment served good food. Inside what still looks like a typical Soweto house, long tables are set up beside walls plastered with foreign currency notes, business cards and photographs of visiting celebrities. The food is buffet style, with the chance to try local dishes such as mogudu (tripe) or umqushu (crushed corn and beans). The less adventurous can settle for straightforward roasts or grilled meats.

See the origins of man (and art)

13.30: Some of the most important evidence of the evolution and development of man was found near Johannesburg, and the brand new Origins Centre (00 27 11 717 4700; origins.org. za), on the edge of the University of the Witwatersrand campus, celebrates this. "Unashamedly Africa-centric", as it describes itself, the centre sets out to debunk the idea that although man had his origins in Africa, the artefacts and cave paintings found in Europe show that human behaviour first arose there. You are greeted by a hologram of a 75,000-year-old chunk of ochre with a lined pattern scored into it, found on the South African coast. This, says the museum, is the oldest piece of art in the world. Most of the displays are devoted to the rock art of the San people, but the mingling of factual exhibits and contemporary art may not be to everyone's taste.

Animal attractions

15.00: What else is Africa famous for? Its animals, of course, and at the Johannesburg Zoo (00 27 11 646 2000; jhbzoo.org.za) you can see many of them in something like their natural setting. The zoo pioneered the use of open enclosures, and the lions, giraffes, zebras and rhinos look more at home than they ever would in Regent's Park. Here, too, you will find one of the few snow leopards in captivity; success in breeding the endangered Siberian tiger is also a point of pride. Not all these creatures are housed as spaciously as one would wish, but the zoo covers an area large enough to make the chauffeur-driven buggies a popular option.

Take tea by the lake

17.00: Take a look at neighbouring Zoo Lake - more of a boating pond, really, but surrounded by pleasant trees and grassland. You can have a late tea or early drink at Moyo, which locals recommend for its setting rather than its food.

Dine on the wild side

20.00: The sun goes down early in Jo'burg - even in midsummer it is dark by 7pm - and it is wise to stick to well-frequented centres of nightlife. But we are heading for the otherwise undistinguished north-western suburb of Greenside to eat at what has been judged South Africa's best restaurant, the aptly named Yum (00 27 11 486 1645; yum.za). Chef Dario de Angeli tries wild ideas such as springbok loin with Japanese seasoning - and pulls them off.

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