Johannesburg,):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 (568 feet) high, the brutalist-styled cylindrical building completed in 1975 was the tallest residential building in Africa and a sought-after location.
But the tower fell into disrepair as a once thriving central business district was deserted by big corporates, initially due to sanctions slapped against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
In the 1980s and 1990s the grey concrete tower became a haven of violent gangs and a hub for drug trafficking and prostitution.
The tower’s windows were sealed off to prevent people from tossing their trash into the shared yard during the years when there were no garbage bins in the area.
The building got a facelift in the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup and squatters were evicted.
Today, small middle-class families live there, paying between $190 and $450 a month for their homes.
From his window, music teacher Polite Ngwenya, 33, can look out on 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.”
Inside, the tower’s hollow core offers a dizzying view of the courtyard and plenty of light to the apartments.
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 into the building guarded by security is through metal turnstiles and ID has to be shown.
But in a neighbourhood that remains rundown 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.
Inner-city foundation Dlala Nje — Zulu for “Let’s have fun!” — wants to change the negative perceptions about the area.
For the past decade it has been offering walking tours of the neighbourhood, 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.