Ponte Tower – A Tale of Glamour, Garbage and Gritty Regeneration

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Ponte Tower

Johannesburg’s Ponte Tower is infamous, notorious and really really interesting.  It embodies the former decadence, ensuing decay and current regeneration of the City of Gold.  It’s a brutalist, concrete hollow cylinder of a building in the city’s Central Business District (CBD).  The tallest residential building in Africa, it rises 55 stories tall and along with the Telkom tower is an instantly recognisable feature of Joburg CBD’s skyline.

Glamour: Ponte started life in the mid 1970’s as luxury real estate dubbed the ‘Vegas of Africa’, where the plushest apartments spanned three floors and had built in jacuzzis.  To see a smattering of photos from those bygone I only found this one article: Buildings are Geological Agents. There are only a couple of images and you have to scroll most of the way down through the post.

Garbage: When decay set in and the original hipster residents moved out, the empty buildings were broken into and hijacked. Ponte became a complete no-go zone.  It was an overcrowded den of iniquity with a direly severe rubbish problem in the 90’s.   There was no running water, no electricity and when the rubbish collections stopped, residents would lob their waste into the central void.  Unfortunately, there it stayed until it rose a festering 14 stories high (or 2 or 3 or 5 – I’ve read different things and I’m not sure which is factually correct, but 14 is the number given by our guide on the day).  Ponte was a slum in the sky.

Gritty Regeneration: In recent years, Ponte has changed again.  The illegal tenants evicted, the rubbish has gone and the building has been refurbished to a good standard and is now home to a mixture of families, students, working and middle class residents.  It is possible to tour both the inside (marvelling at the views from the top) and the eerie core with a circle of sky high above.   Continue reading

Discovering The World that Was Theirs

As an expat it’s always a challenge to dig beneath the surface and figure out what makes your new country tick, to comprehend the national psyche.  In South Africa, the wound left by the Apartheid years is still raw.   Continue reading