The Tower Lost Its Ball

The Hillbrow Tower was neutered last month.

The giant sphere that floated atop the Hillbrow Tower (aka Telkom Tower) for the last four years — painted first like a soccer ball (for the 2010 World Cup) and later like a hot pink dot (an ad for Telkom’s 8•ta mobile phone service) — came down in September.

Tower before and after

A before-and-after Hillbrow Tower Instagram. Telkom is phasing out 8•ta as a brand, replacing it with Telkom Mobile. This is at least one of the reasons why Telkom removed the ball.

I was in the United States when the ball came down, but I found out about it immediately. (I saw photos on Instagram.) Nonetheless, I was startled when I came back to Jozi and saw the de-balled tower for the first time. The tower was one of several things (like the weather, and my own psyche) that had changed drastically in Jozi while I was away.

Hillbrow skyline

Before: the balled Hillbrow Tower and a dramatic Hillbrow skyline, viewed from Constitution Hill.

New tower wide

After: the ball-less Hillbrow Tower viewed from approximately the same spot on Constitution Hill.

Over the last few days I’ve been talking with people — both in person and via social media — about the Tower’s new look. The results of my informal research are very interesting, at least to me.

First, opinion is mixed. Many people expressed disappointment that the ball is gone, while others expressed joy. Here is a selection of some of the responses I received on Facebook and Instagram:

“I am devastated and can only hope that someone does some striking artwork on it and it goes back up. That tower needs to be dressed.”

“I don’t miss it at all! I was so pleased to see it back to ‘normal’. But I suspect I’m in the minority…”

“Oh noooo I loved that big pink ball!”

“…Been waiting four years for that pimple to be removed.”

But the most surprising result of my research was not the variety of pro-ball/anti-ball opinions. I was most surprised by the number of Joburgers who didn’t have an opinion about the de-balling at all, at least not before I asked them about it.

In other words, most of the people who I asked in person about the tower had not noticed at all that the ball had disappeared.

tower shot

Before ball-removal.

New tower

After ball-removal. It’s a big change, right? How could one not see this?

The list of people who hadn’t noticed the ball removal includes:

  • Horst, my landlord;
  • Lucky, gardener and housekeeper at the Lucky 5 Star;
  • Ruth, my journalist friend who works at Wits (right near Hillbrow) and trains at the Hillbrow Boxing Club;
  • Ofentse, a filmmaker/photographer friend who shoots the Jozi skyline on a regular basis; and
  • James, my boxing trainer who lives and works literally in the shadow of the Hillbrow Tower.

Quite a diverse group. All of these people see the Hillbrow Tower — the dominating feature of Joburg’s iconic skyline — on a daily or semi-daily basis but had somehow overlooked the de-balling.

The media also seems to have overlooked the tower’s de-balling, for the most part. I did quite a bit of Googling and found only one news article about the ball coming down, in an obscure online publication called TechCentral.

I’m not sure what any of this means. For some reason I’m just fascinated by public opinion (or lack thereof) on the Hillbrow Tower de-balling, although it seems that many people do not share my interest.

Hillbrow Tower from Troyeville

As another Instagram commenter said: “We noticed! But didn’t know what to say…Goodbye big ball.”

You might be wondering what my own views on the de-balling are. The answer: I’m not sure yet. Sometimes I miss the ball and other times I appreciate the tower’s new (old) starkness.

I do look forward to watching how the Hillbrow Tower changes in the future. Like most things in Jozi, this tower seems to transform on a regular basis these days. And I know there are some potential plans in the works. These plans are too premature to discuss quite yet, but read this article to get an idea of what might be in store.

Tower Instagram

I heart you Hillbrow Tower, balled, de-balled, or otherwise.

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  • Reply wretchedshekels October 14, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    why would you spend money to remove it i wonder?

    • Reply 2summers October 14, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      Among other things, I think Telkom was required contractually to take it down after a certain period of time, as the structure belongs to the city of Joburg.

  • Reply Mia October 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    I am so glad the ball is gone. The skyline is back to normal. Funny how many silhouette dipictions of the tower rarely included the ball. Ignore it until it goes away?

    • Reply 2summers October 14, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      Haha, the silhouette most definitely looks better without the ball!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough October 15, 2013 at 2:41 am

    Fascinating, Heather. I can imagine not having a strong opinion about the ball one way or another. I can’t imagine not noticing. So strange. It will be curious to see where your feelings fall in the end. Also, love the image at the beginning of the tower being neutered. Perfect.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  • Reply Sine October 15, 2013 at 4:58 am

    I love your opening sentence. The Hillbrow Tower has been neutered. Ha! I can’t say I have a strong opinion, but as I entered Joburg just as the World Cup was imminent, to me the ball just always belonged there. My husband, by the way, when I just read him your blog post, commented that he didn’t even know it had changed from soccer ball to red ball! So – I guess the people living in Jozi just aren’t very observant:-)

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Haha, now THAT is funny. For some reason I found the transition from soccer ball to pink dot even more dramatic than the transition from pink dot to nothing.

      I moved here right after the World Cup and feel much the same as you do. I think opinion is different among people who spent so many years looking at the tower “pre-ball” — most of them are happy it’s gone again.

  • Reply amelie88 October 15, 2013 at 6:44 am

    I’m not sure how you could not notice the ball going down! It makes a huge difference in the Johannesburg skyline. It’d be like New Yorkers not noticing the new building going up on the site of Ground Zero (not sure what they finally decided to call it, some refer to it as the Freedom Tower but I think the official name is One World Trade Center).

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2013 at 9:51 am

      I know, weird, right? But it seems that everyone’s eyes (and brains) work differently.

      • Reply Sine October 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

        yep, I think that’s it Heather. I can drive by something day in day out for years and not notice it, because I don’t HAVE to. I only seem to notice things that I need to know. Other people in my family constantly notice everything they DON’T need to know and blissfully ignore the bin of laundry to be folder right in front of their room, managing not to notice it while having to take a huge step over it to get through…

  • Reply Natalie Irwin October 15, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Heather, thank YOU for noticing! We had not noticed and we drive by viewing places of the tower several times a day. We moved here during the World Cup and I loved the soccer ball in the skyline. I was not crazy about the pink ball. Now, for the first time I am seeing the tower as it should look. As we were driving up Joe Slovo this morning, I took my eyes off the road and looked up. I think the tower looks great!

  • Reply Jozi Rediscovered October 15, 2013 at 10:49 am

    To be honest I didn’t notice either – it was pointed out to me. I think I prefer it sans ball – but I do think some interesting public art could be put in its place. I just wish they’d bring back the revolving restaurant they had at the top in the 70s – now THAT would be cool.

    • Reply 2summers October 15, 2013 at 11:05 am

      I totally agree. Hopefully some day…

  • Reply horsesofthesun October 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Hah…I work at Wits too and never noticed it. Although to be fair, Hillbrow is one of the places in our country I prefer to ignore..

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2013 at 11:38 am

      May I ask why you “prefer to ignore” Hillbrow?

      • Reply horsesofthesun October 17, 2013 at 11:39 am

        I was smash and grabbed and kinda too scared to go back

        • Reply 2summers October 17, 2013 at 11:43 am

          I’m very sorry to hear that but I hope you’ll give it another chance someday. Crime happens all over Jozi (and the world)…I go to Hillbrow three times a week for boxing and I’ve never had a problem.

          • horsesofthesun October 17, 2013 at 11:44 am

            Oh that’s good to hear! 😀

  • Reply Noor October 30, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Hi, I stumbled across your blogsite last night, and have truly enjoyed your postings and musings about our wonderful city. Thank you for your insight. I’ve particularly enjoyed your thoughts on Joe -I had a lump in my throat when I read further that he had died – and your post on the de-neutering of the Tower. I told my colleague about this specifically because her husband was involved in placing the pink ball on the tower as well as taking it down. To my knowledge the company involved even has a video of the steps that they took in taking it down. Suffice to say she was thrilled that you had noticed it, and is going to make a point of telling her husband about your blog:)

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      Ha! That’s great to know. I hope your friend’s husband enjoys the post and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog too. I really appreciate the comment.

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