Yeoville is cleaning up, but suburb needs more than efforts of volunteers to make it a vibrant and safe suburb again

The City of Johannesburg needs to find creative ways of attracting  developers to the suburb  to develop Yeoville to become an upmarket area again through financial incentives.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

The new ward councilor has initiated a campaign known as Operation Lokisa. He has recruited volunteers that are cleaning the streets and enforcing the City by laws. The streets are now clean and criminals are having a hard time doing their dirty business. Crime is said to have gone down by 30%.

And according to the councilor “the vision is to make Yeoville look like Maboneng.”

Off course there is a long way in achieving a feat like that when it comes to Yeoville. This is a suburb, once a culturally  thriving place during its prime, especially in the early 90s, reaching its peak after 1994, when its eateries served delicious food, company was good and dinner talk was lively and friendly, even among strangers, its night life something to talk about. That was before the descent into squalor, danger, dirt and grit set in, turning this once vibrant suburb into a place nobody with a sense of decency wanted to pass through, let alone dine and wine, like many used  to do in the past.  In fact trying a night life in the suburb is for fools and those whose sense of adventure borders o madness.

These  current efforts to clean up the place and turn it into a potentially desirable area is definitely a right move in the right direction, especially If the efforts are followed through in a sustainable way. It is a tall order, yes, but it can be done. These are early days, but the results of the past six weeks since this initiative commenced are starting to show, and are making a visible difference.

Picture By Nonhlanhla Ndhlovu

Where the pavements were once a hive of activity with hawkers peddling anything from vegetables, potatoes, smelling and rotting fish one knows fished from where, sweets, to strange looking muthi from Muthiland. Add suspicious characters hanging around the whole day on its streets, Sunday to Sunday, seeming to be doing nothing, you had a proper suburb in chaos and worth avoiding at all costs. But now there is a semblance of order. The streets, especially the main street, Rockey/Raleigh, in the absence of hawkers and the threatening hang around characters, are less threatening. The streets are breathing  again. In fact they look like normal street in a  busy suburban area. Whatever happened to make these streets look like this is definitely a good thing.

Of course the challenges are many and it may take time to make this place  achieve “the vision  to make Yeoville look like Maboneng,” but the recent clean up of the streets and the enforcement of by-laws by volunteers, has definitely demonstrated the possibilities If communities work together for the betterment of their environment.

To turn around this suburb into a once more liveable place and an entertainment night life hub, will take more than cleaning up the streets by volunteers. What about restoring the decaying and rotting buildings, urine wreaking alleyways,  the hijacked buildings that have become a haven for lowlives and criminal elements? What about bringing back big brand businesses that make life easier for people who live in this area, such as banks, all of which have over the years left the area due to crime?  What about making sure that the drinking holes that have sprung up in this area are properly licensed and are run according to city by-laws?

 What about bringing in property developers to take over and renovate some of the owner abandoned buildings that have since fallen into the hands of criminal syndicates and renovate them and turn them into safe spaces for people to buy and live in, or rent, just like what has happened in other areas of Johannesburg that have been gentrified, such as Braamfontein, Maboneng and some parts of Johannesburg CBD, such as Marshalltown and other portions of the city? Turning a suburb around  needs investors, and property developers are the first port of call for anyone who wants to turn around such a suburb with potential like Yeoville. With safe and renovated buildings will come the middle class that has disposable income, and the journey to recovery for the once beautiful Yeoville will certainly begin in earnest.

Picture By Nonhlanhla Ndhlovu

And what makes Yeoville attractive to would be investors interested in reviving a beautiful suburb, that must have been planned when urban planners  still paid particular attention to the small details that make a suburb an experience than simply a place where people are born, live, work and die, such as connecting  it to highways and byways for easy access and exit. This suburb is strategically situated in Johannesburg. It is easy to connect to the main roads out of Johannesburg, such as when one wants to drive to OR Tambo Airport, to Pretoria, Durban or, Boemfontein .  It is ealso easy to connect with the northern Johannesburg suburn=bs from Yeoville. In other words there is no hustle to access or exit the suburb, making it ideally situated for  the upwardly mobile middle class.

Yeoville is, suitably  situated a stone’s throw from the suburbs of upper class Houghton to the North, middle class suburb of Bedfordview to the East and Johannesburg CBD to the West, all within walking distances. This is an ideal place to live. In fact it is a suburb waiting for a visionary developer of the type of Jonathan Liebermann of Maboneng fame, who rehabilitated a dying part of Johannesburg, giving it a new lease on life to an extent that it attracted other developers at the end.

But for this to happen, the City of Johannesburg must create an enabling environment, such as luring investors into the area by packaging well curated  financial incentives for developers who will have to create value in the rehabilitated buildings for those willing and are in a position to buy property, and rental accommodation that is safe and reasonably priced for lower classes, a mixed use kind of environment.

There must also be safe places for recreation so that residents do not have to travel to other suburbs, such as nearby Killarney or Rosebank simply for a cup of cupaccino, that costs R30, as is currently the case. Out of all the several drinking holes and eateries dotted around the the suburb’s  streets, there is not a single one serving proper coffee, and that is if you do not  include McDonald’s, which remarkably still operates in the area, and the space where there was once KFC, is now found a clothing shop.

This place in short, has been allowed to die a premature death through a combination of neglect and lack of vision for such a well situated suburb, which degenerated over the years into a haven for both small time criminals and hardened and dangerous crime kingpins.

As a result of this neglect, big brands one by one left the suburb. For example, there is no single bank operating a branch in such a busy place, even ATMS are now rare, forcing residents to withdraw money from the tills at Shoprite and Boxer shops.

Picture By Nonhlanhla Ndhlovu

Banks such as FNB, ABSA and Capitec have since closed their branches, and in some cases even relocated their ATMS. Food brands such as KFC, Nandos and others have since followed suit, relegating this once vibrant suburb into the unenviable status of a forsaken suburb in post apartheid South Africa.

Where there was a Nandos’ branch, there is now a bottle store, one of several  that have since replaced big brand shops in the area. Having n=bottles is not a bad idea on its own, but that tells you a certain story when big brands are replaced by bottler stores.

I  Took a walk into the stretts of Yeoville over the weekend, and indeed the place has promise. The often busy Rockey Street that is always choked with hawkers and unfortunately social miscreants and misfits  they always gave one an impression that they are about to pounce on you  are conspicuous by their absence.

I was told that these clean streets are the efforts of the new ward councilor David Modupi and his volunteer cleaners and by-law enforcement security.  That in many ways gives one hope that possibilities exist to make this suburb great again. Aster all it  used be home to some of the most admired and colourful individuals in South Africa drawn from the ranks of politics, academia, arts and culture. For example, the late Barney Simon the first artistic director of the Market Theatre, Premier of Gauteng David Makhura, the late South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, to name but just a few, once in their lives called this place home, and so it is a place pregnant with history.

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