Johannesburg sprang up almost overnight after the discovery of gold in 1896, drawing prospectors from all over the world. Johannesburg has historically been characterized by socio-economic and political cleavages between the races, resulting in segregation and limited opportunities for the Black population. With the abandonment of the policy of apartheid the situation is gradually changing.
The relative political stability and thriving economy of South Africa are currently attracting Black professionals from other countries in Africa, as well as from Europe and the United States, and many of the new arrivals have settled in Johannesburg and its suburbs.
In 1931, Johannesburg had a population of 400,000, which doubled during the years of the Second World War. The 1986 census revealed that of the metropolitan population 60% were white, 25% African, 11% "coloured" and 4% of Indian decent. According to the United Nations, the population of Johannesburg metropolitan region was 1.8 million in 1995. Although migration accounts for a significant portion of population growth, natural increase is the main impetus in Johannesburg.
Johannesburg is the largest mining and industrial centre on the African continent and serves as the commercial hub of South Africa. The region, which once contained the world's richest gold-bearing reef, is rich in natural resources and other minerals: carbon, uranium, green diamonds, iron pyrites, silver, platinum, and chrome.
By 1981, Johannesburg was experiencing negative per capita growth rates due to a sharp drop in the price of gold. By 1985, South Africa had accumulated a financial debt that resulted in a severe balance of payments deficit. Concurrently, the Government shifted approximately 15% of manufacturing employment from urban to decentralized areas. International anti-apartheid sanctions of the 1980's began to take effect on the economy, thereby producing a financial crisis.
Johannesburg is currently revitalizing its export-oriented manufacturing sector and deregulating its commerce. Though international sanctions have been lifted, their wounds will take decades to heal. The policy of Apartheid has left a legacy of rigid labour markets, skewed consumption patterns, limited development in outlying areas, and restricted international investment.
As in all major South African cities, sections of the city remain segregated by race, quality of housing, access to the city and availability of services. A working-class housing shortage has persisted since the 1920's. By 1983, there were an estimated 8,000 to 12,00 squatters in the city, with squatter settlements mushrooming on the outskirts of the city during the 1980's. The government today has a programme for providing piped water and toilets in designated squatter settlements.
Integration is increasing on the outskirts and in some central areas of the city, but racial settlement patterns are expected to persist throughout the 1990's.