It is late afternoon when we start our inner city walk in Johannesburg with guides James and Arthur from Dlala Nje. Yeoville Hill is a short stroll from Ponte Towers and offers a stunning view of the city skyline.  The hill functions as a place of worship for some – small groups of people dressed in white are scattered among the grass and under trees, praying diligently – and it attracts  photographers and filmmakers as well as loners and criminals.

Congolese village

We continued our walk past Westminster Mansions to Yeoville, an area that used to be one of Joburg’s “gray areas” under the Apartheid regime. Black and white people lived here together, without segregation. We stopped for a beer in Kin Malebo Village, a Congolese bar on Raleigh Street. The bar looks small but past front area, through the back we found a surprisingly spacious garden (the “village”) with live music and people, many of them Congolese,  dancing and drinking.  James, who grew up in Congo, ordered the beers and a mountain of appetizers that could have fed a whole Congolese village. Plate after plate appeared piled with vegetables, chopped chillies, fried and boiled liver and chicken gizzards with peanuts and a starchy cassava dish that looked like porridge.

Yeoville is a community of migrants and has a colorful and lively PAN-African taste, with many immigrant groups holding on to their culture and foods. We continued to Yeoville Market. Our guides encouraged us to go inside our own and talk to people and  buy something. Anything.  The market gives a nice taste of the continent of Africa, small chaotic open stalls selling dried fish, cassava, yams, peanut flour, books, handicrafts, just about anything you can think of as African. I had a chat with a friendly Congolese market vendor and bought a woolly hat against the cold.  Yeoville has a reputation of being an unsafe area, so an informal chat with the locals, a stroll through the market and just to see the daily lives of people help to overcome irrational feelings of fear.

West African atmosphere

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The chef of La Camerounaise

We continue on busy Rockey Street. In the time of Apartheid, Yeoville was known for its bohemian lifestyle, with Rockey street at its centre. This was the place to go for clubbing and you could find an eclectic mix of exotic shops here. To regain control of the neigbourhood,  the Apartheid regime shut off electricity and water and the area degenerated fast.  Nowadays, Rockey Street is a rather tatty-looking but bustling multicultural street. We entered La Camerounaise, a busy, noisy but lively restaurant with an exuberant West African atmosphere. Plastic chairs, loud music and an open kitchen. A lot of beer and grilled fish, well seasoned and straight from the big braai on your plate to be eaten with your fingers and served with fries and a sharp chili mayonnaise.

When we leave the busy and warm restaurant, the icy cold hit our face. Our city tour ended with a taxi ride back to Ponte Tower and smelly fish fingers for hours after.

 

About Dlala Nje

Dlala Nje offers children from the inner city of Johannesburg  a safe place to play and learn after school. To finance these activities, they organize walking tours in notorious neighborhoods such as Hillbrow and Yeoville. They call it “immersion experiences”, experiences where you will have the opportunity to talk and interact with local residents.

More information  Dlala Nje