Bustling and booming, Gauteng and North West is the economic heart of South Africa and the 21st-century face of the nation. The gateway for most travelers into the country, the region immediately delves you into urbanity and industry, but in the typical South African way, a complex history lurks beneath the friendly surface. Commerce, gold, plutonium and cattle industries are all deeply rooted in the region, yielding both an extraordinary 10% of the GDP of the whole continent—as well as stark divisions and a turbulent history. Big-city Johannesburg is enjoying a vibrant revitalization and a renewed self-confidence—but economic and racial disparities still endure. If the frantic pace gets to be too much, you can catch your breath, and delve deeper into history, in Pretoria. A laid-back and scenic capital, the city was both the headquarters of apartheid and the site of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. Another industrial center, Vereeniging’s monuments to the Anglo-Boer War and the Sharpeville Massacre are both educational and sobering, while the Peace Monument offers hope. There’s no better place to get your bearings and get to know South Africa than Gauteng and North West.