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20 years in Johannesburg: Top 20 highlights

Today it is 20 years since I arrived in Johannesburg from Cape Town.  I started to unpack all my boxes after a successful move. My mother was so kind to travel with me to help me unpack the boxes so that I could be ready to start working on 1 September 1997.  We also unpacked my biggest box containing my television. When I switched on the TV for the first time in Johannesburg, it was as if the world had stopped for a day with the shocking news that Princess Diana had died in a tragic car accident.

Since then, as a Capetonian I had to adapt to Johannesburg – getting to know the roads, the routes, the traffic and the culture of a fast-paced modern African city. I also had to adapt to the rat race of Johannesburg. The transition was quick and I immediately managed to fit into a friendly and warm environment with so many wonderful people, places and opportunities. I decided the best way to adapt was to fit in as quickly as possible. I made some new friends and my work colleagues went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I travelled the whole city to get to know different areas, so much so that it took me only a few months before I could guide other people around.

Reflecting on the last 20 years, I identified the top 20 highlights:

  1. A vibrant business environment: Johannesburg is probably one of the best cities in the world for business. There are so many opportunities for being successful in business. Most of the head offices of South African companies are in Johannesburg, and I had the privilege to visit many of them.
  2. Excellent networking opportunities: There is no shortage of opportunities for networking in Johannesburg. I developed a network consisting of thousands of people over a 20 year period. This network assisted me to be successful in so many different projects and initiatives. I don’t think there is a single evening in which nothing is going on in the city. It is the people of Johannesburg making this city such a great place to work, play and stay.
  3. Great city campuses: Having worked inside universities and closely with universities, the city is blessed with some of the best universities in the country such as the University of Johannesburg, University of Witwatersrand, and several top business schools like Wits Business School, Gibs, Regenesys, Southern Business School, Mancosa and Milpark. Johannesburg as the centre of the Gauteng City Region also offers access to top universities in the north, the University of Pretoria and the University of South Africa, and North-West University Vaal Campus in the south. I had the privilege to work full-time and part-time at most of these institutions, in addition to being involved in academic advisory councils. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than when I hear about ex-students being appointed in senior positions all over the city and the rest of the country.
  4. A hub for the publishing industry: Although Cape Town and Durban also have strong publication houses, Johannesburg has been a centre for publications. Not only did I learn from these publications, the city opened many doors for me to establish myself as an author of more than 20 books and 500 articles. I now maintain the standard of publishing one book a year and one article per week.
  5. A retail and shopping centre hub: The city of Johannesburg is home to some of the best shopping centres in the country.
  6. A green city: Despite the perceptions of Johannesburg as a concrete jungle, it is the greenest city in the world with the most trees. It is referred to as a “man-made forest.” My favourite place is the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden, only 5 kilometers from my house.
  7. City of gold: Johannesburg’s history is about gold as one of the world’s centres of gold mining.
  8. My home: Over the last 20 years I stayed in the western side of Johannesburg, in Roodepoort – first in Constantia Kloof and then in the suburb Roodekrans.
  9. The city of my wife: Coming from Cape Town, people often ask me, “Why did you leave Cape Town for Johannesburg?” The answer is easy. I met my wife in Johannesburg, thus Johannesburg is a special place for me. The city of my heart. The city of my wife.
  10. The city of my daughter: My daughter Nadia has been one of the highlights of my stay in Johannesburg. Born in 2004, she grew up in Roodepoort and enriched my life from her first day.
  11. The gateway to the rest of the country: From Johannesburg I frequently travelled to all the other provinces to experience the beauty of South Africa and its wonderful people in different cities and towns.
  12. The gateway to Africa: To me Johannesburg was also the gateway to the rest of Africa. From Johannesburg I travelled to other African countries, America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Johannesburg helped me to globalise my thinking and practice and offered me opportunities to meet so many interesting people from all over the world.
  13. City of conferences: Johannesburg has so many great conference venues, and as a delegate, organiser, speaker, exhibitor and chairperson I experienced the conference industry from all sides.
  14. Soccer World Cup: The Fifa World Cup in 2010 has been one of the best experiences of my life. For six weeks, as a nation we were world-class. Everything was working, and everyone was working together – private companies, public services, non-profit organisations alike. And South Africans and the rest of the world loved it. Collectively, we produced the best World Cup ever – a moment to be proud of. The World Cup also brought us a vastly improved local and international airport (ORT), as well as Gautrain, our very own local fast train network. Although I am not a regular passenger, Gautrain must go down as one of the top highlights in the city. Being exposed to top fast trains in Europe, America and Asia, I was so proud when we launched Gautrain as Africa’s first speed train service. Gautrain offers a world-class experience to passengers.
  15. A cultural richness: Johannesburg is a multi-cultural city with so many different people representing different cultural groups, countries, races and languages with many opportunities for tourism and cultural activities – from Soweto, to Sandton, to museums, to theme parks, to theatres. Johannesburg’s tourist attractions are under-estimated and should be leveraged for the benefit of its people.
  16. Professional highflyers: Johannesburg opened so many opportunities for developing myself and others, so much so that I could develop and thrive as a professional in such a dynamic city. I could become quite a serious high flyer myself, and the two airports (Oliver Tambo and Lanseria) were my departure and arrival points into and out of the city.
  17. Home of professional bodies: I have been actively involved in professional bodies since the first month I arrived in Johannesburg. My last six years at the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) has been the most interesting part of my career interacting with thousands of HR Managers all over the country and several other countries. In addition, I met representatives of more than thirty other professional bodies, thereby contributing significantly to my own professional development. The development of the world’s first HR Standards in 2013 and the Leadership Standard in 2017 are the two highlights of my career at SABPP.
  18. Best weather: Johannesburg is well-known for its moderate weather – not too hot and not too cold. Winter nights can be a bit chilly, but summers are great with mild to hot days with little wind. In fact, I have not worn a jersey at all since moving to Johannesburg! However, Johannesburg has the most severe thunder storms in the world. These electric storms are a wake-up call for ex-Capetonians like myself, but once you get used to them, it adds to the beauty of the Joburg nights when the skyline is filled with the light from these electric storms, coupled with some heavy rains.
  19. The centre of social media: Johannesburg is a good city for social media and I embraced it fully. My favorite platforms are twitter (see @SABPP1 and @MariusSABPP with 14 000+ and 6000 followers respectively) and linked-in (almost 6000 followers).
  20. A city for active citizens: Notwithstanding all the good points about Johannesburg I outlined above, the stark reality is that the city also mirrors South Africa’s big problems: unemployment, inequality, poverty, poor education and low skills levels. However, there are many opportunities driven by community and other organisations to become active citizens in making a difference when tackling these problems. Moreover, as a popular African city, Johannesburg attracts immigrants (legal and illegal) from all over the continent and other parts of the world, and incidents of xenofobia are indeed a reality. Also, Johannesburg is known for its high crime rate, particularly violent crime. Despite these societal problems, I have decided to participate in some of the active citizenship initiatives such as community policing, skills building via the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator and school improvement projects such as Partners for Possibility. Hence, Johannesburg is indeed a city for active citizens, rather than keeping on perpetuating these issues, or simply complaining about our socio-economic ills. If you want to impact the lives of others, Johannesburg is the place to be.

In conclusion, Johannesburg is a vibrant city. I have enjoyed my last 20 years as a citizen of this beautiful, but busy city. I leveraged every opportunity that came my way, and attempted to build good relationships and to let others share in these opportunities where possible. Although I often miss Cape Town as the city of my youth, I have enjoyed the last twenty years in Johannesburg. The city of Johannesburg is a talent, business and tourist hub and it offers unprecedented growth, development and personal enrichment, as well as active citizenship opportunities. I want to thank all the people I have interacted with over the last 20 years for enriching my life in this great city. I am a better person because of you. I am a better person because of Johannesburg. From today I embark on the next 20 years!

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and author of 21 books for Juta, Van Schaik, Lexis-Nexis, Knowledge Resources and more than 500 articles for magazines such as HR Future, HR Voice, Talent Talks and Achiever Magazine. Leaders will receive daily updates on progress with the development of the Leadership Standard, they can use the hashtag #LeadershipStandard and follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or Talent Talks on @talenttalksnet or by visiting the website

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