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.

%d bloggers like this: