Yeoville probably doesn’t feature at the top of the list when tourists are being handed brochures about exploring Johannesburg, and I suspect the tourist coaches one sees around the Rosebank market don’t venture that way too often. It wasn’t exactly high on my list of things to do either when I moved back to Johannesburg, so I’m not going to be judgmental.
While I hadn’t ventured into Yeoville since the days of the great migration towards trendier, more hip (and safer?) Melville, it is where I acquired my first address in the big city and I can never help but be nostalgic about it. When I moved there in early 1996, my first time out of the Eastern Cape, it was already past its glory days, and the decline was, in fact, well and truly under way.
But that’s not to say all the vibrancy was gone. For someone who had spent their whole life in a world of the Group Areas Act and all the other absurdities of the apartheid era, to be in Yeoville was to feel transported to a completely different reality. It seemed the height of cosmopolitanism.
A few minutes’ walk from my digs on Dunbar Street, there was the famous Rockey Street, where Hugh Masekela owned a jazz club, and you could find yourself in conversation with legends of South African music. The suburb was still a place where you’d be chatting to Hugh at his club one night, then go to a braai, and bump into Ray Phiri — he of Stimela and Graceland fame.