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Struggling to Shed Negative Image, Landmark Johannesburg Skyscraper Faces Challenges in Rebirth



Ponte City skyscraper update

The Ponte City skyscraper update is marred by the building’s reputation tied to apartheid. According to eNCA, the view of Johannesburg from the Ponte City skyscraper is breathtaking. But the tower is struggling to shrug off its reputation as a symbol of a dilapidated inner city. At 173 metres high, the brutalist-styled cylindrical building completed in 1975 was the tallest residential building in Africa and a sought-after location. However, the tower fell into disrepair after big corporates deserted it. This desertion was because of sanctions slapped against South Africa’s apartheid regime. In the 1980s and 1990s, the tower was a home for violent gangs, drug trafficking and prostitution.

The skyscraper received an update in the 2010 FIFA World Cup run-up with the eviction of squatters. Today, small middle-class families live there, paying between $190 and $450 monthly for their homes. From his window, music teacher Polite Ngwenya, 33, can look at the metropolis of one of the world’s most unequal countries. “People in the neighbourhood don’t realise how lucky we are,” he told AFP. “Security here is on point, the building is clean and the towering views are great, unique.”

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The tower’s hollow core offers the apartments a dizzying view of the courtyard and plenty of light. The ramp entrance to the building opens onto a vast and empty underground parking lot, where the shells of a few disused vehicles languish. Access to the building guarded by security is through metal turnstiles, and residents must show their IDs. But in a rundown neighbourhood and one of the city’s roughest, Uber drivers are nervous about going to Ponte City, especially at night. The surrounding streets are poorly lit and littered with rubbish.

However, efforts are underway to change the negative perceptions about the area. Inner-city foundation Dlala Nje — Zulu for “Let’s have fun!” — has been offering walking tours of the neighbourhood for the past decade, culminating at the tower, which has become a tourist attraction. “We have a long way to go” to change the prejudices against the building, said Ngwenya.


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Picture: Twitter / mystical_africa

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