One giant leap for Soweto

Thrill-seekers get a unique view of Soweto from two 100m-high cooling towers—especially when they swing by a rope suspended far above the ground.

The Orlando Towers dominate the skyline of the South African townships. The east tower is painted with colourful scenes of township life, including a giant picture of former president Nelson Mandela, a one-time Soweto resident.

An adventure centre that opened here on Saturday has strung a high wire between the two with a rope hanging like a pendulum from the centre.

Brave members of the public can ride a cage lift up the outside of the west tower, step on to a small platform and, harnessed to the central rope, jump off the edge.

Jumpers free-fall through the air for a few seconds before the rope pulls taut and leaves them breathless at the view and the thrill.

“It’s so scary,” said Uyanda Makama, laughing and wiping away tears at the same time on Saturday after making one of the first jumps. “But I am so glad I did it.
It’s wow!”

The adventure centre is the brainchild of professional adrenalin junkie Bob Woods, technical director for Skyriders, a company that specialises in jobs that need to be done at great heights.

Rappelling down the towers is offered, and a bungee jump is to open in September. A landscaped climbing wall is also planned.

“We are not only creating a new business venture but also opening up new doors for people in Soweto who haven’t been exposed to this type of experience,” Woods said.

Soweto, the sprawling township south-west of Johannesburg, was at the centre of the fight against apartheid. Today it is being transformed as black South Africans reap the benefits of democracy and a growing economy.

Shopping malls are sprouting up and the adventure centre is part of a project to revamp the nearby disused Orlando power station into a retail and residential complex.

With South Africa hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the centre will attract attention to Soweto. “This is going to bring a lot of people to Soweto,” Woods said.

Nonkululeko Mahlangu (21) grew up in Soweto close to the towers. “The towers have always been there. I never thought I would be jumping off them,” she said. “It’s a fantastic experience. You can see everything.”

Mahlangu is one of a group of young Sowetans trained as the centre’s “jump crew”.

She did her first jump last week and has been back four times. “It’s a piece of cake,” she said encouragingly.—Sapa-AP

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