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.