Yeoville, much like Hillbrow and other inner-city suburbs in Jozi, has transformed over the last three decades. Once an artsy, mixed-race (but primarily white) neighborhood, similar to Melville, Yeoville is now a chaotic, pan-African cocktail-shaker. (I almost said “melting pot” but that’s too cliché for words.)
Most of Yeoville‘s residential buildings are crumbling and occupied by squatters. The main drag, Raleigh St., is crammed with pedestrians, loiterers, tiny shops, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving home-cooked dishes from across the continent. Yeoville is noisy, dirty, colorful, and a little dangerous. In other words, my kind of place.
Let me be blunt: You won’t see many white people in Yeoville. Most white Joburgers younger than me have never been there. Most white Joburgers older than me haven’t been there for at least 25 years. But my friend Jeroen has a friend, Caitlin — a young woman from America’s heartland — who resides happily in a renovated Yeoville flat. We paid her a visit last week and spent the afternoon exploring the neighborhood.
I’ve delayed in writing this post because I’m not satisfied with my photos. Yeoville is one of the most visually stimulating places in Joburg. Every corner begs to be photographed; my shutter finger twitched as we walked the streets. However, I didn’t feel comfortable parading with my Canon 60D in plain sight. I wish now that I’d been a little bolder, but I think I still managed to capture a slice of Yeoville’s aura.
We’d planned to dine at Sweet Pot, a Rastafarian vegetarian restaurant on Rockey Street. It was inexplicably closed. (Bummer! I was looking forward to my first Rasta meal.) Instead we went to Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant on a quiet side street.
Caitlin prepares to chow. There was one item on the menu at Blue Nile that day: meat. Tasty meat with onions, spices, and fresh chilies, served over injera with a side of hot black tea. It was good. The bill came to R85 for three — about $4 a person.
After lunch we retired to Caitlin’s flat for more tea. Caitlin lives in an interesting art deco apartment block, which I neglected to photograph from the outside. It backs up to a lovely park.
View from Caitlin’s front balcony. Across the street is a “squatted” building (unseen), which is occupied mostly by families. Catty-corner is what Caitlin politely called “an establishment of the night” (also unseen).
Caitlin, by the way, is a bad-ass. She’s lived all over Joburg and has never owned a car. (Despite what I wrote in my previous post, it’s possible to live car-less in Joburg.) Caitlin’s preferred mode of public transport is the much-maligned minibus taxi. She rides them regularly, without fear, and has never had a problem.
Jeroen and I bid Caitlin farewell and went for a stroll on Raleigh St. and the adjoining Rockey St. (Contrary to popular belief, Rockey St. is not in Yeoville, but in the adjacent neighborhood of Bellevue. The two street names are used interchangeably though, and Yeoville and Bellevue seem to operate as a single unit.)
I didn’t take pictures on the street, but I felt safe enough to whip out my camera inside the cavernous Yeoville market. I’m glad I did because I got to photograph Daniel, the best-looking man in Yeoville.
I decided to buy a plaid plastic carry-all — the staple possession of every African traveler. A taxi driver recently told me that Nigerian immigrants in South Africa (many of whom reside in Yeoville) call this bag the “Ghana-Must-Go”. There was a time when hoards of Ghanaians migrated to Nigeria, and the Nigerians wanted them to go. When the Ghanaians went, they carried these bags.
I conferred with Mary, the proprietress of the backpack and bag stall across from Daniel. She offered me a small Ghana-Must-Go for R12 ($1.70). Deal!
Yo. I love Yeoville.