Bright lights, dark mutterings


A week or two ago, paging through the Star, I came across an interesting feature. Amid all the stuff about load-shedding, which we were in the middle of, and the advice about what to do when the lights go out for an extended period of time (“Revive your love life!” or similar), there was a heartening spread of pictures of big buildings in Sandton with all their lights shining — the Norton Rose Fulbright building, the Sandton Towers, the Michelangelo hotel.

The caption alongside these four or five pictures went like this: “She’s the daughter of the City of Gold and she’s gorgeous. Sandton is coming of age with landmark buildings around every corner. If you love her during the day, you should see her at night! Property owners and their lighting experts have created quite a show when the sun goes down.

“Here are a few photos taken by the Heritage Portal team to encourage you to explore the city at night.”

That seemed a bit overstated to me, given South Africa was trying to deal with load-shedding just at that moment.

Was the suggestion that, despairing of sitting in darkness at home (which would surely be somewhere other than Sandton), we would pass the time and find some joy in driving to Sandton to go and gawk at these great big buildings with all their lights on?

That feels like a bit of a country-bumpkin thing to do. And, surely, if all these lights were on and looking “gorgeous”, we would start to wonder how they managed to keep the lights on while the rest of us were in darkness? Even if there wasn’t load-shedding (when we’re supposed to be saving electricity, switching off the geyser and so forth), surely we would wonder whether it was a good idea for those thousands of lights to be kept burning all night long?

Are we so in thrall to images of wealth and power (even if it is just touristic power) that we would just stand there, agog at the spectacle, and not wonder about all this wasted electricity?

It’s not as though these are very attractive buildings anyway. Unless, of course, you particularly like the genre of postmodern pastiche — brutalism with a few curlicues. Well, the Norton Rose building isn’t bad, but the others are pretty hideous.

One notes that Heritage Portal, the source of these images and captions, makes no attempt to argue that they are in any way actually good works of architecture (or tell us why this recently developed crush of concrete “heritage” is interesting).

They could have offered the Radisson, which is better-looking as a building, or the Ernst & Young spaceship. But no.

So I looked up the original piece on Heritage Portal. I discovered that this feature was not really designed to annoy people suffering under a load-shedding regime. It wasn’t even produced during this round of load-shedding. On the site, it is dated July 2018. Obviously, to the Star, eight months later, a few big buildings with all their lights shining is still news.

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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