The Soweto Towers (also known as the Orlando Cooling Towers or the Orlando Power Station) are the most visually striking structures in Soweto — often portrayed in silhouette as a symbol of Soweto’s historical and cultural heritage.
Construction of the Orlando Power Station, once the main electricity supplier for Johannesburg, began in 1935 and was completed in 1955. The power station was decommissioned in 1998 (the station later collapsed in 2014), and the cooling towers became an entertainment and tourism centre in 2008. Today the pair of 33-storey towers are best known for their brightly painted advertisements — not everyone likes the commercialisation of this historic landmark, but the adverts are eye-catching, if nothing else — and for the fact that adrenaline-seekers can bungee-jump from a small platform suspended between the towers.
The Soweto Towers Vertical Adventure Centre hosts a variety of activities at the towers, the most prominent of which is bungee-jumping but also includes paint-ball, vertical climbing up one of the tower walls, and a terrifying “SCAD free fall” — the highest in the world — inside the western tower. (SCAD stands for Suspended Catch Air Device. Participants jump from the top of the tower and free-fall straight down into a giant net.)
Bungee-jumping is terrifying, to be sure. But those who can handle the terror are rewarded with a stunning view of Soweto, stretching out for miles in all directions, before the jump. Luckily the jump only lasts for a second or two; less than a minute later you’ll be standing firmly on the ground, dizzy but triumphant.
The adrenaline rush right afterward will ensure you never, ever forget your visit to Soweto.
Leaping off towers can really work up an appetite so it’s a good thing there’s a restaurant on the premises. Chaf Pozi, Soweto’s most well known shisa nyama restaurant, stands right in the shadow of the towers and serves massive quantities of braaied meat to tourists and locals alike. Choose your cuts of steak and boerewors, add some pap and chakalaka, and wash it all down with a cold Soweto Gold beer while listening South African kwaito pump through the Chaf Pozi loud-speakers. It’s the ultimate Soweto tourism experience.
The Soweto Towers are on Sheffield Road near the corner of Chris Hani Road and Nicholas Street, Orlando East, Soweto. Call 071-674-4343 for the Soweto Towers Adventure Centre and 081-797-5756 for Chaf Pozi.