Mhambi has been redeployed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Democracy is sacrosant (3)

Continued from Democracy is sacrosant part (2)

No wonder that when the ANC was unbanned in 1990, most of the returning exiles and ANC leadership settled in Hillbrow and neighbouring Yeoville. A coterie of white lefties, both local and from abroad followed.

UK Observer recently remarked: "Yeoville used to be the Greenwich Village of the city: 25 years ago it was the first integration experiment. At the time of the election in 1994 there were 50-odd ANC MPs living here, five or six cabinet members."

yeoville sunset
Originally uploaded by REPRESENT.CO.ZA.

It was this Hillbrow that Mhambi got to know personally from 1991, when as a student we escaped from the cultural strictures of Pretoria, to taste the exotic freedom and delights of the future. Fellow student Liela Groenewald, later the TRC's investigator tasked with Winnie Mandela's transgressions, often drove to Rockey street's Tandoor with her own pool cue, and wiped the floor with even the most skilled Rasta's.

Come 1996 I had a few friends working with me at the Truth and Reconcillation Commission (TRC) who lived in Yeoville and Hillbrow.

Liela now lived here. There was the beautiful Akashni Singh, the charming and womanising Frank, the bright eyed child of exile Thulani. Half English half Xhosa and married to Mbeki family, he was the Commissions' caring dreadlocked shrink. We sat around in Yeoville's trendy Times Square with the new intelligencia.

But the rot had already set in around us.

Anthony Altbeker, a typical lefty white student of the time describes this well in his fantastic book, The dirty work of democracy.

"It was in Yeoville that I came of age, I moved to Yeoville when I was a naive twenty-year-old. My first flat had a spectacular view of the Hillbrow skyline, and I shared it with a friend who had once been detained for six months in solitary confinement for her activities in the ANC underground.

Yeoville Crash Panorama1
Originally uploaded by ismail.farouk.

I did not tell her that our neighbour was a warrant officer in the Riot squad. He moved out within a couple of months, however, and was replaced buy one of the last surviving spliff toking, acid-dropping, heroin using, long-haired hippies of the 1960's, a printer named Ty.

This was the early 1990's and Yeoville was undergoing a profound transformation. Always one of the greyest of Johannesburg's suburbs, the death of aprtheid had seemed an affirmation of the free-wheeling bohemianism of the place. This was where the new South Africa was being born.

Perhaps every 20-something thinks like this, but the world seemed ripe for remaking and we all believed that the seeds planted in Yeoville would soon yield the timber needed to do the job."

Hair Salon
Originally uploaded by ismail.farouk.

Come 2006, during a 3 month visit to SA I lived very close to Hillbrow and Yeoville, in neighbouring Observatory - and too my shame - in a gated part of Observatory. I drove through Yeoville everyday, and through parts of Hillbrow, but I never set foot there.

Which is why I was should probably not have been surprised when Paul Riekert - one of the rebel artists in the Voelry movement seethed with anger when I mentioned Yeoville. Riekert, now a music producer for the likes of Breyten Breytenbach, and front man of industrial rock band Battery 9 does rage well. Riekert's music has always railed againt the pretty middleclass cozyness of the Cape and celebrated Johanneburg's gritty industrialism. But that he was directing his anger in this new direction said allot I thought.

The BBC reporter Simpson had said it and Riekert agreed: Yeoville and Hillbrow is lost to me he said, "how ironic that an area that thrived with diversity under the Nationalists is now a place where I can not and don't want to go."

This is the same Riekert who as Joos Tondeldoos and with his band Die Dwarstrekkers wrote Vulkaan (Volcano), and album that boomed rightous rage at the old National party. How things had changed.

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Ismail Farouk said...

While I am quite happy for you to use my pictures, You need to credit me appropriately - Ismail Farouk

Wessel said...

Hi Ismael - I think it fixed now. I recently upgraded to a new version of blogger, and on some pics imported from flickr the text underneath was'nt visible.

Apologies and thanks for the permission.