Yo Yo, Yeoville

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.

Blue Nile doubles as a phone card shop.

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.

Blue Nile staff in the restaurant’s kitchen.

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 the stairwell of Caitlin’s building. There’s a flat for sale on her floor — holler if you’re interested. Yeoville real estate is a steal.

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.

Daniel runs a food stand in the market. He’s serious about his okra. Check out the plaid bags on the right. More on those later.

Daniel shows us a fish head for sale. I hear they’re great in soup. Those giant brown tubers are yams.

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!

Mary, who sold me my Ghana-Must-Go. I asked to photograph her stall, and she spent several minutes arranging the bags to perfection before giving me the go-ahead.

Yo. I love Yeoville.

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  • Reply Bing June 12, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I think that those plaid bags came from China. At train stations in China, you’ll see hordes of people travelling with those bags. They are very cheap, light and durable. I use them to ferry donated clothes/stuff to JNB from Singapore. They cost me only SGD4.00 (~USD3.20) for a gigantic one that can fit me inside. Do know that you will almost always get stopped at customs when you carry one of those bags. The officers are very suspicious of them. Maybe that’s coz so many Chinese try to sneak in stuff with those bags. They frequently have some sort of illegal meat or mushrooms hiding somewhere inside. =p Can I go with you when you guys next go to Yeoville? I would love to see the place!

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2011 at 7:52 am

      Ha! I will remember your advice about getting stopped at customs with one of those bags. Makes sense. An American friend of mine recently used one to bring SA souvenirs home for her family — I’ll have to ask her if she got stopped.

      I’ll definitely let you know the next time we go to Yeoville. I know Jeroen wants to go back again soon to try the Rasta place.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough June 13, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Fascinating post, Heather! I’m wondering what the cost of real estate is like in Johannesburg and what might be considered a “steal.”

    • Reply Djamgbakie June 13, 2011 at 6:40 am

      In Yeoville, $150K gets you a BLOCK of flats.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2011 at 7:55 am

      Thanks, Kathy. Of course it depends, but I know you can get a very nice flat in a “transitional” neighborhood (which is pretty much anywhere in the city centre or the inner suburbs) for R350,000. That’s about $50k. Melville and suburbs north of here are quite a bit more expensive.

  • Reply amblerangel June 13, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Fish head- they seem to pop up in a lot of cultures for soup…. maybe we should try them…. sometime…. somewhere…

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2011 at 7:56 am

      Yes. You should do it and write a blog post!

  • Reply Mia June 13, 2011 at 5:11 am

    Wow, Caitlin is seriously hard-core. But it is great that she is shattering perceptions. Yeoville really is colourful! And those bags, you can pack half a house in those, I am sure. The seem bottomless.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2011 at 7:57 am

      The bag I got is a smaller one, but I’d like to have a huge one, too. I should start a collection! I love bags.

  • Reply Djamgbakie June 13, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Nice one. Yeoville was the first suburb I lived in when I moved to Joburg in the early 90s. I have really fond memories of my HUGE 1 bedroom flat in Caridade on Forteque Road. I was doing my residency at Joburg Gen and my favourite thing was to have a chocochinno at Time Square cafe at 10pm on my way home. The waitress went on to become a Miss SA. I still go to Yeoville to buy Ghanaian food -either cooked from the chop-bar or palm oil and okro from the market. (handsome guy selling okro). It is funny that the last time I was there (a month ago) I had the sense that I felt safer there than in Hyde Park. It could be the fake Nigerian swagger I adopt when I am in Hillbrow and Yeoville- park my car in the middle of the road, speak pidgin english and act like my man owns the place!!!!

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

      A tour guide recently told me that you are more likely to get mugged in Morningside than in the city centre. The more I go downtown, the more I think he’s right.

      I saw all the Ghanaian restaurants down there — I’d love to try one. Which is your favorite?

      • Reply Djamgbakie June 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm

        I only go to one- Ayeesha’s. More importantly when are you exploring Norwood?

      • Reply 2summers June 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

        It’s on the list! I’ve heard Norwood is really cool. Recommendations are welcome.

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica June 13, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Nice post and photos! Looks like a very interesting area. What a difference to the northern suburbs of Joburg.

  • Reply Jaco Roets June 13, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I can’t wait to come back to my beloved Jozi! We are back in 6 weeks. Heather, the Gautrain should give you some mobility – not a lot of stations, but at least you will be able to get around a bit. The bus system is not that small, and you should be able to walk to a stop to get to Rosebank (and beyond)!

    Your Yeoville article almost made me tear up with excitement.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm

      Wow. It’s very nice to know that my post (almost) brought tears. To a man no less!

      Are you back for good in 6 weeks? We’ll have to get together! I’ll take a minibus taxi to Killarney.

  • Reply Jaco Roets June 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    You definitely have an invitation to test the minibus taxi route to Killarney!

  • Reply WatsonH June 23, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    What a post and article. Caitlin’s hard core nature is refreshing and it is true, she lives in the heart of Jozi. She experiences the pulse of the city because well, it’s where S.A is now residing in many ways (Zimbos, Nigerians, Congolese, Malawians, Mzansi ethnics and all). These groups really are the new face of the city in these parts. So I myself live somewhere more leafy and well, I’m rattled to come to her house and to think, I’m black!!!!
    So that tells you a story of who she is. Real Jozi chick and with standing ovation, a first rate AFRICAN!

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      Hey, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  • Reply Candice January 25, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    ‘m a regular in Yeoville but havent found a nice Ethiopian restaurant, do you perhaps remember the street name?

    • Reply 2summers January 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      Hi Candice, let me see if I can find out for you, as I don’t remember. Thanks for reading!

    • Reply 2summers January 26, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Hi Candice, here’s what Caitlin says:

      It’s Yeo street; Yeo is in two halves divided by a park, and the Blue Nile is on the Observatory side of the park. Though coincidentally, there’s another good Ethiopian restaurant on Rocky street (Joe Slovo side)….can’t remember the name offhand, but it’s something quite obvious, like the Absynnia.

  • Reply beckieknight June 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Pity none of you lived in Yeoville when it was, clean, decent and well-kept. When the buses ran on time and when you could actually walk around at night – from Yeoville to Johannesburg central. Glad you’re excited though. Different strokes for different folks? I s’pose you go home to your orderly mansion at the end of the day – nice one!

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Actually no, I don’t live in an orderly mansion. I live in a small, disorderly house in Melville. And Caitlin (featured in this post) lives in a Yeoville flat and loves it there.

      I didn’t know Yeoville before, when it was clean and “decent”. I understand that it was a very different place then, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t also appreciate Yeoville the way it is now.

      I know that some people have trouble accepting the fact that the world changes. It seems that you might be one of those people. As you say, different strokes for different folks.

  • Reply beckieknight June 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Well it might “SEEM” that way but seriously, I have no problem with change whatsoever. After all, it happens every day; every moment. I have a problem with degradation and filth, that’s all.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2012 at 9:44 am

      Hi Beckie,

      When did you last visit Yeoville? I was there a month ago for a boxing tournament and had a very enjoyable experience. I didn’t notice any filth or degradation, perhaps because that’s not what I was looking for. I was more interested in interacting with the people there and experiencing something new. It’s amazing how your expectations can affect your experience.

      I know that the Yeoville of today is nothing like the Yeoville of 25 years ago, and that can be difficult to accept for people who knew and loved it the way it was before. But Yeoville has also changed a lot in the last five years. Perhaps you should open your mind and give it another chance.

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