Rastaman vibrations, yeah-eah, positive…..

How do people keep blogs going? I started this blog because I thought
it could be a daily journal of sorts for myself and because I thought there
might be people out there who would be interested in hearing about what is
happening in Yeoville Bellevue (through my eyes, of course, let me caution).

But I have found it very hard to get into the routine, I suppose for
the same reason that I have never been able to maintain a daily (hand-written)
diary as some people do. I will keep trying, though, as I believe, like the
person who suggested I do it, that it could be useful, both to me and others.

So to a new entry.

On Thursday, I was accused by one Rastafarian of being racist and by
another of being a control freak. I’m not particularly perturbed by being
called a racist. It’s such an easy and intellectually lazy stone to throw in an
argument. Anyway, while it is very easy to prove that someone is a racist, it’s
almost impossible to prove that one is not, so there’s not much point in trying.
I would probably have to agree that, in some things, I am something of a
control freak (for good reason at times), but the person who said it about me
(it wasn’t to me – I overheard it said about me) admitted in the same breath that
she is a control freak too. ‘Takes one to know one’ (Laurie Anderson, Katy
Perry and others)

Rastafarians are an interesting phenomenon in Yeoville Bellevue. There
are at least five ‘commercial’ establishments run by rastas in the area. There
are two vegetarian restaurants, a clothing shop, and two (very different)
social spaces.

I love the fact that there are two vegetarian restaurants in our area,
partly because I am vegetarian myself and partly because, well, who would have
thought? I wonder how many other suburbs in Johannesburg, even South Africa, have
two vegetarian restaurants? Need I point out that they are black-owned and
black-run? This in a society where some people claim that eating meat – lots of
it – is somehow a black thing, a cultural thing. Both restaurants are in Rockey
St.

The clothing shop is not strictly rasta anymore – there’s a lot of
hip-hop stuff there too. But outside there are portraits of Haile Selassie, Bob
Marley, Bob Mugabe (?) and others. It’s been around for almost fifteen years,
quietly occupying one corner of Rockey and Raymond Sts.

The two ‘social spaces’ are the House of Tandoor in Rockey St and the
rasta house on the corner of Hunter and Bezuidenhout.

Why is a rasta spot called Tandoor? Well, in the 1970s, there was a
place called Tandoor in Hillbrow. The owner was a white guy who had spent some
10 years in India and discovered Tandori chicken, a particular type of chicken
dish covered in a red curry paste and cooked in a Tandori oven. When Yeoville
Bellevue became the next best place to be in the 80s, Tandoor moved from
Hillbrow and set up shop at 26 Rockey St. I am a little hazy on when the
Tandori chicken gave way to ganja, but give way it did and today Tandoor is
fondly referred to by many (especially visitors from other countries) as a
really cool place to be. Tandoor no longer occupies a street front ground level
shop. The main action happens on the roof of the building. There is a hall at
the back of the building where music and poetry have happened, but I’m not sure
if it is currently used.

The roof certainly is. Up there is a bar (I had thought Rastafarianism rejected
the use of alcohol?), a pool table or two and a powerful sound system. I know
it’s powerful because when it is pumping, I can hear it at my house six blocks
away. And therein lies the reason for me being called a racist. I questioned
the ‘right’ of Tandoor to play music till 2am from their roof premises, with
the sound travelling in all directions, unrestrained by walls, let alone
sound-proofing. The charge of racism stemmed partly from the fact that there
had been white owners of the rasta version of Tandoor in the past and it was
assumed (incorrectly) by my accuser that there had been no complaints about the
noise then. He also seemed to assume that, in raising the issue of the noise, I
was somehow attacking rastas and that I could only be doing that because I was
white.

I raised the issue because, as a community development activist,
concerned with all aspects of development necessary to make Yeoville Bellevue a
sustainable community, I was concerned that Tandoor was breaking the by-laws of
the city and was also showing disrespect for the many adults and children
within earshot of their sound system who would be prevented from sleeping
properly or at all by the noise. The children, after all, need to go to school
and concentrate, and the parents need to be able to put in an effective day’s
work.

I linked this to a problem with the rasta house (though I should point
out that there is no link between Tandoor and the rasta house) which also
seemed to me to be showing disrespect to the community of Yeoville Bellevue. The
house has been lovingly renovated and from the outside looks well-run. I have
not been inside as yet, but I understand there are good cultural events taking
place there. The problem is that there is no parking on the premises. So
visitors to the rasta house all park on the pavement along Bezuidenhout St,
between Hunter and Frances. What this means for the largely pedestrian
population of Yeoville Bellevue is that they have to squeeze between the cars
and buildings or they have to walk in the street (which is a busy one). Mothers
with prams have no choice but to use the street.

Of course, it is only not only visitors to the rasta house who park on
the pavements. This is a problem across Yeoville Bellevue, continuing because
of the lack of effective by-law enforcement.

Rastafarianism is, to my limited knowledge, based on love and respect
(and the holy herb). So my concerns about Tandoor and the rasta house were
raised in this context. Where is the respect and love in forcing others to
listen to your music? Where is the respect and love in taking away the right of
people to walk safely on a pavement?

But there’s a further twist to this story. In a meeting to discuss our
Africa Week event, a third Rastafarian suggested that the rasta house be used
as an ‘official’ venue during the festivities. In the ensuing discussion, it
became clear that no-one else in the Africa Week committee (including the rasta
who called me a control freak) felt it would be appropriate to use the rasta
house as a promoted ‘official’ venue. No-one was critical of the place, no-one
thought it should be closed down. A number of people in the committee had
frequented the place. But they felt that the image of the Festival would be
negatively affected if it was directly associated with the house. An obvious
reason is that ganja is smoked openly in the house. Again, no-one objected to
that. They simply felt that it was not appropriate to associate it with the
Festival.

And here is the main point of this story. The rastas of Yeoville
Bellevue want to jealously protect their place in Yeoville Bellevue. This is
understandable, because there are few, if any, other places in Johannesburg
where rastafrianism is so rooted. However, there is a strange and illogical
assumption that, because rastas have found something of a home in Yeoville
Bellevue, this somehow means that Yeoville Bellevue – all of it – is a
Rastafarian area and, I suppose by implication, that the majority of people in
the area are rastas.

No-one knows how many rastas live, work and play in Yeoville Bellevue,
anymore than anyone knows how many whites are left, how many foreign nationals
there are or what the gender breakdown of the area is. But it is certainly
possible to say that rastas are a definite minority in the area. An important
minority, but a minority nonetheless.

And so it is important for rastas to recognise that not everyone smokes
ganja, not everyone parties to 2am and beyond, not everyone likes reggae music.
Just as South Africans and foreign nationals have to learn to live with each
other, respecting each other’s rights, acknowledging their own
responsibilities, just as Muslims and Christians in the area have to co-exist, in
the same way that young and old have to accommodate each other, so all other
groups in the area have to recognise that they have to respect the rights of
others who are not a part of their group. Rastas have no more right to claim
Yeoville Bellevue as theirs than anyone else. They can be part of shaping the
area, but they cannot shape it on their own or as their own.

Meanwhile I will continue to check myself for any signs of residual racism
and I will try and relax and let go and control less. Maybe having a joint
would help??

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