The Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) was established in Johannesburg in 1968 by the National Party Government in the context of formalised racial segregation policies, which enforced separate institutions of higher education for separate racial groups. The Rand Afrikaans University was affected dramatically by the transformation of higher education sector in South Africa when the ANC became the first democratically elected government in 1994, and was one of the institutions selected to merge into a comprehensive university, as stipulated in the National Plan for Higher Education of 2001. The Rand Afrikaans University became the University of Johannesburg (UJ) after the merge with two campuses of Vista University, a formally black university and the Technikon Witwatersrand (a technical and vocational collage).
The Geography Department at UJ is known as GEMES, which is an abbreviation for the full name Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies. The name represent the various undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications offered. The department has a strong environmental focus offering mainstream Human Geography and Physical Geography as well as Environmental Management (at both undergraduate and postgraduate level) and Energy Studies (at Honours degree level). A number of members of the Department have expertise in Tourism and Urban Geography, which forms the foci of a large proportion of the current publication output of the Department.