The beautiful South

CEO Middle East travels to the 'rainbow nation' to find out what it has to offer.

South Africa is a nation rich in history and is correspondingly diverse. The area has been inhabited by for over 100,000 years and so houses some of the world's most ancient archaeological remains.

Since those times, bushmen and indigenous tribes have taken advantage of its natural attributes, and were joined in doing so by European and Far Eastern seafarers as the trade routes began to develop. Being a nodal point on the route from the Far East back to Europe, it was soon colonised, leading to the eventual emergence of the separatist movement as tensions rose.

But that history also brought the diversity that today sets the country apart. Indians brought Hinduism, Eastern settlers brought Islam and the Europeans brought Christianity, which now results in a truly distinctive country. Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu coined the phrase "rainbow nation" to describe South Africa.

The country is rapidly becoming an increasingly popular choice for both business and leisure travellers. For many, Joburg or Jozi (as it's affectionately nicknamed) will be the gateway to the country. Johannesburg's reputation goes before it but most locals shirk this image.

As the economic capital of the country, it boasts the largest population and a correspondingly vibrant cityscape. Formerly, the inner city was a no-go area, with violent crime very much the norm, but in recent years the authorities have made a determined effort to make the streets safer.

Crime rates have certainly improved since the drive began but authorities still urge visitors to take precautions when exploring. For example, valuables should be hidden from view, directions should be sought from businesses or uniformed officials as opposed to passers-by, car doors should be kept locked and drivers should be alert when stopping at traffic lights (or robots, as the locals call them).

Keep your wits about you, though, and there are still some great (and arguably under-visited) sights to take in. Constitution Hill and the Apartheid Museum offer a stark insight into the segregatory regime that plagued the city in the 1960s and 1970s; the city is awash with Victorian and Art Deco architecture that can be enjoyed on walking tours; you can take a trip to the gold mine that created so much wealth back in the early part of the 20th century; and the township of Soweto shows the black African heritage that is so central to the city's fabric.

Just north of the city is tycoon Sol Kerzner's famous Sun City resort - a volcanic crater in the bush, packed with hotels, water parks, golf courses and numerous other recreational facilities. Should the city bustle get too much, you can retire here for some fun and relaxation, as many Joburg residents do at the weekends.

Even if it has yet to firmly establish itself as a tourist destination, there is little doubt that Johannesburg is one of the key economic players on the continent. Like bees to honey, companies in banking, real estate, media, IT, manufacturing, mining and all those in between flock there to make their fortune.

Just up the road lies Pretoria, or Tshwane according to a recent name change.

The alteration is a subject of contention among locals but, whatever you call it, the city makes for a tranquil break from edgy Jozi. Pretoria is the executive and official capital of South Africa (Cape Town is the legislative capital and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital).

Many visitors to the city will be struck by the famous purple blossoms of the jacaranda trees that line the streets. It's a pretty quiet place, despite a population in excess of a million, so for a bit more life head on down to Cape Town.

Aticle by: by Laura Collacott -