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.
Tandoor had a feeling of being a safe space. It was good to see that some things haven’t changed
If you turned right on Rockey Street towards Berea, there was Times Square, where some young journalists — who would, over time, become some of the country’s most influential voices — hung out for Sunday-afternoon beers and lively political debate. I had encountered names such as Mondli Makhanya and the late Mduduzi ka Harvey, who was at Business Day by then, while reading the Weekly Mail as a student at Rhodes University. To be sitting and mostly listening to them was unreal.
And there was Tandoor, the roof bar with reggae music and pizza, which turned into my de facto living room. It was by a mere fluke that I was told about this Japanese deejay, DJ Jun, performing there a few weeks ago. I was intrigued, as anyone would be. And what a show it was. Even in those days when tales of crime and aggression were dominating narratives about the rest of the street, Tandoor had a feeling of being a safe space. It was good to see that some things haven’t changed.
I still haven’t done the follow-up exploring of Yeoville that I promised myself. But I have been told that those who venture there could do a lot worse than try out the Yeoville Dinner Club, which some say, through its food, embodies the area’s new pan-African identity. Something on my to-do list when I get on that tourist bus.
Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day. He’s enjoying reconnecting to his South African roots, both journalistic and musical.
- From the November edition of Wanted.