Time Square, Yeoville – then and now

Time Square, for those who know Yeoville Bellevue, has always been a controversial place. Until the early 1980s, the building was a block of flats whose name I cannot recall. Then, trying to take advantage of Yeoville Bellevue’s change from a quiet suburban village to an internationally-known nightspot, the owners applied for approval to turn the ground floor into businesses. This development outraged people living in the building, some of whom I knew at the time. However, there was nothing they could do and approval was duly given. To my knowledge, though, it was stipulated in the approval from the council that only the ground floor would have business rights and the rest of the building should remain as residential.

The then owners – and remember we are talking about the 1980s when Yeoville Bellevue was very much a white area in terms of apartheid regulations – ignored this clause in the agreement and almost immmediately allowed some of the upper floors to be used for business purposes. Just thought I would put that in so that people don’t remain with the mistaken belief that the current disregard for bylaws began with the transformation of Yeoville Bellevue from a white to a black area.

Just as drug dealing is not something that started with the arrival of Nigerians, as so many people are inclined to believe. Anyone hanging out in Yeoville Bellevue back in those days will tell you that it was in the early 80s that drugs began to be sold, most notoriously on the corner of Rockey and Raymond St, and long before any Nigerians set foot in the area.

For some time, Time Square and surrounds was a pleasant alternative to the developing dangerous madness of Rockey St. In fact, the owner of Ekhaya, situated opposite Time Square, will tell you that she moved to her present site sometime in the late 1990s because her clients did not want to come down to Rockey St – they found it too chaotic and unpleasant.

Sometime in 1998, Mohican Diner, which was a family restuarant on the corner of Kenmere and Raleigh, relocated to Time Square. It very quickly changed character. Run by the late Chris, a South African of Greek extraction as I recall, it soon became just another loud night spot, contributing to the general disorder in the Time Square area.

I went there for a drink there late one night – around 11pm – after a meeting at the Recreation Centre. I was having a beer with a friend and asking Chris if he didn’t think it a problem that his place was belting out loud music which was disturbing residents in the flats across the road. He looked surprised. ‘No,’ he said. ‘My customers are black and, as you know, blacks like noise.’

While I was busy trying to digest this bizarre social observation, a young black woman came in, furious because a customer from Mohican or Time Square Cafe or London Pub and Grill had parked in front of her garage gate and she couldn’t drive in. She was a soapie actress who had arrived home and wanted to get upstairs to relieve her baby-sitter. In passing, I asked her if she agreed with Chris’s notion that ‘all blacks like noise’. She got even more angry, telling me that she often couldn’t sleep because of the noise coming from the various restaurants and pubs in Time Square.

Just then, a shot rang out. I loked around and was astonished to see that at least seven people in the room had drawn guns and were looking around to see where the shot had come from. In came Tyrone, owner of the famous Charro’s curry restaurant in Time Square, a favourite of many a Yeoville Bellvueite. He had been in the Mohican and taken a call on his cell phone. He stepped outside to get away from the noise. Someone inside the Mohican followed him out and held him up, demanding his cell phone. In the ensuing scuffle, a shot was fired, the cell phone fell on the floor, and the man ran off.

When everything calmed down, I asked Chris if he lived in Yeoville Bellevue, wondering if he himself found it easy to deal with the noise. ‘Absolutely not,’ he said. ‘I like peace and quiet. I live out on a small holding.’

Chris died a couple of years later, some said because of the stress of running the Mohican which had become increasingly dangerous and less and less under his control.

In 2004, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) presented a development plan to council based on demarcating sections of Rockey Raleigh St for different purposes – a commercial strip, a civic spine, an ‘adult entertainment’ section (an name with unfortunate connotations) and a family area. The block in which the Time Square building is located, being next to the park, recreation centre and swimming pool, was supposed to a ‘family-oriented’ space. Problem was that JDA didn’t have the means of enforcing this demarcation of the area and so the stretch from Fortesque to Grafton continued to attract more and more liquor outlets, putting nail after nail into the coffin of JDA’s plan.

Sometime in the 2000s, the owners of Time Square threw in the towel and sold the building. And so we come to today.

Last week, we reported in Yeovue News (our local paper) that the police had visited Times Square and given an ultimatum to the various roleplayers in the building: clean up your act or we will deal with you. This included, amongst other things, sorting out their security, cleaning up their toilets, and getting rid of the vendors on the pavement in front of the building. This after a number of complaints had been lodged with council and others about the state of the toilets. Also after incidents in which women were raped in the toilets, people were stabbed, illicit activities took place in the parking area etc.

Today the Community Policing Forum met with some of the business tenants, the building manager and the head of security. One of the owners was supposed to be present, but apologised at the last minute because of an unexpected commitment.

All those in the meeting agreed that the situation was bad. The building manager, the security company and the tenants said that things had reached a point where it was very difficult to have any control over what went on in the building. it was eventually agreed that the best way forward was to draft an agreement, together with a code of conduct, which should be signed by the owners of the building and their various agents, the tenants, the community (through structures like the Community Policing Forum), the SAPS and the City of Johannesburg, in terms of which a management strategy would be put in place and honoured by all concerned. The CPF was asked to draft the agreement (with inputs from other stakeholders) and to present it to a further meeting as soon as possible. Once all roleplayers were happy with the agreement, it would be signed and implementation would begin.

There are some challenges. Many of the tenants were not there, some probably because they themselves are involved in unlawful activities. There were many complaints about a lack of support from the SAPS and even accusations of corruption against certain police officers who were said to be part of the problem and to be protecting some of the perpetrators. Some tenants said they believed the owners should be doing much more to address the problems. As property owners, they had first responsibility for ensuring that there was proper order in the building.

But it’s a great step forward. If we can get more support from business owners, who should really form themselves into a business assocation where they can discuss common concerns and come up with workable solutions; if we can get cooperation from the Liquor Traders’ Association, who we have asked to begin to practise a policy of self-regulation; if we can get property owners to take responsibility for their buildings and for what their tenants do (and property owners too should form themselves into a property owners assocation to agree on basic standards and operating practises for buildings in the area); if the community can play a constructive role through organisations like the CPF, the Yeoville Stakeholders Forum and the Community Advocacy Committee, then we have a real chance of bringing about meaningful change, building by building, street by street and block by block.

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15 Responses to Time Square, Yeoville – then and now

  1. joberry4 says:

    I loved this. About ten years ago I was doing voluntary work with young sex workers in Hillbrow and we had to spend a lot of time visiting people in a hijacked building named the Mimosa Hotel. It was stressful and weird, but every now and then we’d come across a beautiful flat with a young family in it – my earnest hope was that the city would step in to make it a safe inner-city habitation. There is a deeper personal level to this one for me: fifty years ago a young man and his two friends walked by the Mimosa Hotel one summer evening when he spied a lovely woman taking out a cigarette. He turned back to offer her a light (with a flourish), and that is how my father and mother met. We are all woven into the fabric of SA – pull any of us out and something unravels.

    • Tietsi says:

      People owning Time square they do not care about the lives of other people and what they care about is maximising profits, this should come to a stop, young people are hooked to be prostitutes from
      times square and little is done about it.

  2. Tietsi says:

    That place is ruining young people’s lives In Berea, Yoeville and sarrounding places, something should be done about it.

  3. Gango says:

    Unfortunate enough the place never changed we were attacked by a group of teenagers who wanted to rob us!!!! What a shame!

    • yeovue says:

      Sorry to hear that. Of course, this is not peculiar to Yeoville Bellevue. It happens all over. Still. It’s not good to hear stories like this because it reminds us of how much work we have to do to persuade people that Yeoville Bellevue is not a no-go area or a place to be scared of. I speak with knowledge, given that I live here.

  4. Hello, you used to write excellent, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your great writings.
    Past several posts are just a little bit out of track!
    come on!

    • yeovue says:

      Hi Jacqueline
      Sorry to hear you think so. It is true that I don’t pay as much attention to the blog as I used to, to my regret. This may have impacted on my writing. I will go back and re-read my earlier stuff and my later and see where I might be going wrong. Thanks for the honest comment. It is appreciated. Keep reading and I will try and keep writing.

  5. Charles says:

    Look at Cape Town, was fast becoming a dump, like JHB, untill Zille took over, the rest is history, Seapoint today is great, ride the back roads of Yeoville, and be shocked at non service delivery by the ANC run council, then again they were the worst , and most useless liberation movement ever, chicken in basket revolutionaries they were called.

    • yeovue says:

      Wild statements like this take us nowhere. Whatever the criticisms you might have of the ANC, to say they are the worst and most useless liberation movement ever is absurd. Nor is the DA perfect. Me, I want to get past party politics and focus on the real issues confronting us in Yeoville Bellevue. They aren’t going to be solved by grandstanding, but by understanding the causes and finding workable solutions.

  6. Sizimisele says:

    The problem is population of people in such areas,the majority of them living there see nothing wrong at all in everything they do.They will always say RSA is a free country.I wish one day we can have detectives who will interview people randomly about their occupation and ask to see their income,if one is living luxury life and can’t provide the proof of income,they should investigate and find out how he/she is making a living?Just my opinion.

  7. increasingly'pd'off'res says:

    An independant police unit from elsewhere should be tasked to clean up Yeoville and surrounds, and to route out bad weeds in force. By-laws regarding all-night noise and cutoff deadline should be enforced. Civic departments such as JMPD should have an after hours contact, not only for ‘barking dogs’.

  8. longtermteovillite says:

    An interesting extract I found while researching the early history of Yeoville and Johannesburg:
    This was memed from a Wiki article:
    Yeoville was proclaimed as a suburb in 1890 (four years after the discovery of gold led to the founding of Johannesburg) by Thomas Yeo Sherwell, who came from Yeovil in the United Kingdom. The area was advertised as a ‘sanitarium for the rich’ in which the air was purer because it was up on a ridge overlooking the dirty, smoke-filled mining town that had sprung from nothing out of the (then) Transvaal bushveld. However, the rich did not buy into the suburb. Instead it became a multiclass area, one to which many poorer people living below the ridge in Doornfontein aspired. It was also a place which attracted many of the waves of migrants from abroad that came to South Africa seeking a new life.

    • yeovue says:

      Thanks. Yes, actually I wrote that. I came across the advertisement in a thesis someone did on the area. The ad was in the then Diggers News.

  9. Godfrey van Wyk says:

    The original name was Aida Centre…I lived there with my buddies occupying 4 flats at the same time. There was the Green Oasis on the ground floor in the middle owned by Vic…

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