Central Johannesburg is laid out in a rectangular grid pattern with narrow streets dating back to the city's early history, although today they are lined with office towers that have inspired the nickname "Africa's Manhattan." The central city today is primarily a business district devoted to the financial and mining industries and government. Located in this district are the Magistrates Court, the Gauteng Legislature, the public library and main post office, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and the 50-story Carleton Centre with an observatory that affords an excellent view of the city. A variety of small shops and street traders provides a traditional atmosphere at odds with the city's skyscrapers. The New-town district just west of the city is home to a number of cultural institutions, including several museums. The northern neighbourhood of Braamfontein is home to the University of the Witwatersrand.
When first built, each of Johannesburg's suburbs and townships was racially restricted under the apartheid system as spelled out in the Group Areas Act. The Group Areas Act was nullified in 1991, but Johannesburg's neighbourhoods remain largely racially segregated with most Blacks living in townships close to the central city. The two most populous are Soweto, with a population of at least one-and-a-half million, and Alexandra, with about half a million. Living conditions in the townships range from middle-class enclaves to squatters' camps with no plumbing or electricity. Black migrant workers still live in hostels on the outskirts of the townships. Most of the city's mixed-race population is clustered in townships west of the central city while the Indian population lives in the township of Lenasia. The inner-city suburbs of Joubert Park, Hillbrow, and Berea are formerly White areas that Blacks began moving into when apartheid began to crumble in the 1980s and 1990s. Today they are mostly Black and house many immigrants from other parts of Africa, especially the Congo and Nigeria. The suburbs of Yeoville and Observatory, formerly Jewish and Portuguese neighbourhoods, are now multiracial areas. Johannesburg's western suburbs, including Briston and Melville, are home to middle-class Whites while the northern suburbs, such as Parktown and Houghton, are nearly all-White elite enclaves with posh homes.
An inexpensive way to obtain housing is to employ the tried and true method of sharing a rental flat. An alternative to renting is to exchange your home abroad with one in South Africa for a period. This way you can experience home living in South Africa free or for a small cost (if you use an agent) and may save yourself the expense of a long-term rental. Although there's an element of risk involved in exchanging your home with another family, most reputable agencies thoroughly vet clients and have a track record of successful swaps. There are home exchange agencies in most countries, many of which are members of the International Home Exchange Association (IHEA).
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