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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

The Yeoville Trail, Johannesburg

Paul Murray - 2010-09-15

Conversation at a recent get-together with colleagues from more than twenty years back centred on the topic of old times and haunts in the Johannesburg of the early eighties.  We reminded ourselves how we would go for pizza to Mama’s, the Italian Restaurant in Yeoville, or to the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on the corner of Rockey and Bezuidenhout Streets for a late-night snack when burning the midnight oil. Even everyday shopping was easier to do by nipping across Louis Botha Avenue, than trekking down to Killarney Mall.   

But the eateries and restaurants of the eighties in Yeoville have slowly been replaced by places that serve the needs of the ever-changing residents. Today the residential make-up of Yeoville consists of a largely central African component. Many of the landmarks are still very much visible.

 Left: The signpost to St Aidan’s, Yeoville. Right: St Francis of Assisi.

The Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet is still there, except that it’s in a different spot, on the corner of Rockey and Bedford Streets, slap bang in the busy area of Yeoville.

Yeoville’s history is as old as Johannesburg. It was proclaimed a suburb in 1890 after Thomas Yeo Sherwell, and soon was a sought-after suburb for the purer air because it was up on the ridge; and in those days there was plenty of dust from all the mining activities further down. But as immigrants entered the city the face of Yeoville changed, and so the trend continues, the face of Yeoville continues to change. 

Yeoville in the seventies was a mix of music and art and where people freely associated – bearing in mind the separation laws of the country. In the eighties this was even more so, as the area became a “liberated zone as black and white met and ate and listened to music together in defiance of prevailing apartheid laws”. Gradually economic migrants have found Yeoville a safe haven and many live there today with their families.
A trip to Yeoville of 2010 was a far cry from the eighties, but nevertheless it was a really interesting experience, with a great deal to take in and appreciate. Not least is the energy, the bars, the eateries, the informal trading ... and a lot more.         


 Many bars line the main road of Yeoville, serving the extensive population of the suburb.


  Our conversation at the get-together with rich reminiscences of the past brought to light the fact that Yeoville has the most amazing fresh produce markets, and this was reason enough to investigate.

One of the projects currently being undertaken in Yeoville is the Hotel Yeoville Project in the library on Raleigh Street.  Readers can visit the website http://hotelyeoville.co.za/ to learn more about the interactive project available especially to residents of the area.  It is best described as: ‘a ground-breaking art project which, by way of freshly designed interfaces, keys into the diversity of immigrant and South African experiences that make the legendary suburb of Yeoville such a hot melting pot.”

One of the statements from Hotel Yeoville reads:

 “Instead of reporting on the violent and extreme outcomes of xenophobia, the project explores the roots of difference, attempting to give public airtime to the most ordinary, everyday conversations of South Africans, migrants, refugees and foreigners.”

To check out what’s happening readers can click here.

Click here for a list of eateries in the Yeoville.  Here you are assured of real African food in some of the places.   

  A Congolese restaurant in Yeoville prepares authentic food from central Africa.

 For traditional African food try African Corner in 27 Kenmere St, tel 0780413578 – it serves Ghanaian food – try kenkey made from fermented maize and sometimes with cassava added.  It is then made into dough and is usually served with a veggie stew or just soup.     

At the African Corner restaurant try real kenkey, a staple dish much the same as sourdough dumplings. The dish is traditionally from the regions of West Africa. It is found outside of Ghana, too, for instance, in Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Benin. It is a composition from sadza and ugali (maize or corn) and this ferments before cooking. For best results the mixture should be allowed to stand for a few days to ferment.  Thereafter the kenkey is partially cooked, wrapped in banana leaves and corn husks (or in the absence of this, foil – ugh!) and then steamed. Kenkey comes in different varieties, but Ga and Fanti are classic. For a classic recipe - how to prepare - click here.

Visual from: http://www.betumi.com

For more information on the Yeoville Studio programme of the Wits University School of architecture and Planning in Yeoville, click here and read more about how architectural students “conduct research and fieldwork in the area … to produce useful and relevant research in partnership with the Yeoville community”. For more details, contact Claire Benit-Gbaffou, Wits (Claire.Benit-Gbaffou@wits.ac.za) or George Lebone, Yeoville SF (georgelebone@yahoo.com).  

Scenes of Yeoville today:

 The entrance to Yeoville from Louis Botha Avenue

 Accommodation in Yeoville

Old Victorian semis in Yeoville

Everyday street scenes in Yeoville

Yeoville’s Rockey Street today

 A gents’ hair salon

A pizza eatery on Louis Botha Avenue

 St Mark’s Presbyterian Church

Yeoville continues to experience transition as it did more than 100 years ago – it is still a place that affords newcomers to the city the opportunity to establish themselves. Says Maurice Smithers, secretary of the Yeoville Stakeholder’s Forum: “Things are beginning to change.  The city bureaucracy has restructured itself to be more responsive to the needs of communities, especially in the inner city, of which Yeoville and Bellevue are considered to be a part.”

With so much being invested in this area, Yeoville looks to become, if not as culturally significant as it once was, as popular as it used to be. (Quote adapted from this page.)