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Surveillance Lights: the 1980s’ CCTV

Spotted! A surveillance light!

Where? Khayelitsha, near Sibanye.

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What is it? It’s a 1980s’ version of CCTV – a product of the constant clashes between the security forces of the apartheid state and those who belonged to freedom movements, especially during the long State of Emergency declared by the then SA President, P.W. Botha, in 1985. The lights are found only in townships, where they illuminate large areas. They’re so high as to be out of the reach of most stone-throwers, and so powerful as to provide enough light to aid extensive door-to-door searches during the dead of night.

The surveillance lights are a classic example of the perversions of city planning during apartheid – when the approach involved as little investment as possible, plus the aim of extracting maximum control from that investment. So, on the one hand, they can be seen as symbols of oppression. On the other hand, however, eleven years into democracy, many who live in townships welcome the lights’ continuing presence, as a deterrent to crime at night.