Afro-politan Yeoville shows what South Africa can be
Diversity is the spice of life
A MAN lies on the ground writhing in pain. The crowd around him looks on with a mixture of anger and glee as a necklace burns him to death - another kwerekwere dead. This brings to more than 60 the body count of African migrants killed in South Africa in May 2008.
Yet, there's another side to South Africa's xenophobic coin. This side is peaceful, vibrant, thriving and South Africa at its Afro-politan best.
It's found in the Yeoville of 2012.
Mama Queen Ohre sits hunched over the smoked and fresh fish she sells on the corner of Raleigh and Kenmere streets.
"How about this one?" she asks, grabbing a wax print dress from a pile next to her. "It's from Ghana," she says proudly, "I also have some from Nigeria."
The 67-year old from Delta state in Nigeria has been here for eight years. Her son is a student at the University of South Africa.
Next to Mama Queen a woman has turned an old wax cloth into a stall laden with tomatoes and onions she has arranged in pyramids. Across the road is the market: loud, packed, filled with chatter and the sound of people haggling.
The wares include garri, palm oil, fufu powder, okra and potato leaves - foodstuffs that were barely available until the influx of African nationals from elsewhere on this continent.
In one section of the market, tailors turn yards of cloth from Mali, Congo, Ghana and Nigeria into outlandish dresses.
Shopping around Rockey Street, I buy a memory stick from a man from Lagos.
The woman braiding my hair is from Dodoma in Tanzania. There's a supermarket run by a Senegalese.
There are also Ethiopians, Ivorians, Somalis, Beninois and scores of other migrants living in harmony with South Africans, "who have now embraced us and see the value we have added here," as Cynthia, a Congolese market woman, says.
There's a van piled with fresh fish next to us. The two men working here are South Africans. Their customers are everyone who lives here. There's no attitude or disdain in the interaction. "It's business and life," says one of the men running the mobile fish market.
Life in Yeoville includes a greeting in Swahili and getting a response in isiZulu. Local dishes feature mphokoqo, sadza, injera and attieke. Pap is called sadza in Zimbabwe. Attieke and injera are staples in Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.
South Africa has a long way to go to end xenophobia, but here, amid the grime and grit of decaying urban centres, there's Afro-centric flair and flavour.
Cars blast highlife, kwasa kwasa, zouk and kwaito. There's a Nigerian restaurant down the road from a McDonalds. eKhaya, a South African drinking bar, is now next door to a Congolese bar and opposite an Ethiopian restaurant.
Time Square, which has pubs and restaurants, is still as derelict today as it was in 2003 when I lived here but today, conversations are held in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana, Swahili, Lingala, Tshiluba, Yoruba, Amharic, French, Ibo, pidgin English, Wolof, Dioula and Somali; the languages of Africa.
The Afro-politan identity is everywhere: there's a guesthouse named Karibu (Swahili for welcome), a poster announcing to the Nigerian community the death of our "brother".
There are Nigerian and Francophone African churches. Small placards announce that you can make local and international phone calls. There's a Bureau de Change opposite Tandoor, an iconic club.
Yeoville has had its heyday, downfall and multiple identities: from a town built on the back of the discovery of gold to a Jewish residential area and finally a glimpse of what a reconciled nation could be socially in the early 1990s.
By 1998 Yeoville was mostly black. The influx of the rest of Africa started around this time.
But back then, "It was difficult", says Divine, a Congolese who has lived in South Africa since 1998.
"There was a lot of crime then. Black South Africans were just coming out of the cage of apartheid. There was anger and displacement. Being a foreigner made you an easy target for criminals.
Divine recalls how she could not wear her bazin boubous and wax print dresses, "but today even South Africans buy cloth from us".
"Of course there's nothing like zero xenophobia," says Mama Queen, "but here it comes down to simply the presence of good and bad people, like it is everywhere".
People come to Yeoville for different reasons.
To South African friends who live here, it was one of few places where they could afford to buy decent property.
Students trek here because it's not far from universities.
Some in the immigrant community fled the violence of their homelands, yet more came here for to dig for their gold.
They found challenges like crime and discrimination. They also found refuge and a place that gradually became a home that affirms and celebrates their identity by not oppressing them into fitting in at the cost of their native identity.
"This will never be like Kinshasa, but Yeoville is the only place in Johannesburg where I'm surrounded by things that are familiar to me," says Millet as she sells soap to a Zimbabwean woman.
Yeoville's Afro-politan identity allows these "new South Africans" to have a legitimate identity.
At a shop on Bezuidenhout Street, a girl speaks to her mother in French and then greets me in IsiZulu. She is as Ivorian as she is South African.
Hours later when I walk up to Fortesque Street to get a taxi into the city, ceramic flags of African countries gleam in the afternoon sun.
It strikes me that out of all the identities Yeoville has had, it is this Afro-politan side that is most relevant, poignant and telling of what South Africa can be to the continent - a happy, thriving home to all.
It occurs to me that Yeoville lives up to the adage that diversity is the spice of life.