Walking through Soweto’s Orlando township, home to some of South Africa’s most infamous anti-apartheid clashes in the 20th century, it is nearly impossible to miss the two Orlando Towers. Since the township is made up almost entirely of one-story houses, the 33-story towers are in plain sight from practically every angle, towering in the distance.
In 1942, both the population and the energy consumption of Johannesburg were quickly growing. To meet this increasing energy demand, British engineers constructed the Orlando Power Station in the adjacent city of Soweto. The coal plant successfully ran for over five decades until 1998, when it was decommissioned. Although the original power plant building collapsed in 2014, the power station’s two cooling towers have remained upright, and they have left a highly influential mark on the city.
Before the plant was decommissioned the Orlando Towers were plain and drab, but since 1998 the cooling towers have been given a flamboyant new paint job, a reflection of the cultural renaissance of the community. In the words of local resident Tshepo Motsepe, Orlando is the “quintessence of the township, intertwining urban culture, history and heritage, communal living and camaraderie, a techno-savvy population, and social amenities.” This atmosphere is easily reflected in the beautifully painted towers, which show vibrant symbolism of soccer, music, fashion, and historical figures.
Nowadays, something even more thrilling is happening at the Orlando Towers: since 2009, the towers have been the launchpad for one of the world’s most epic bungee jumps. After being lifted over 300 feet in the air, adrenaline junkies can walk across a narrow bridge lofted between the two towers, enjoying a beautiful yet terrifying view of Soweto along the way. From the top, visitors can bungee jump, abseil, freefall, and power swing, making the Orlando Towers the perfect combination of culture and adventure.