18 Norman Street no longer has a front door; only four wooden side panels with glass fogged by the stain of smoke still intact. The wooden floors in the entrance and lounge have been ripped out and three pieces of paper remain pinned up on its walls; a Drum magazine cover, a love letter and a drawing that appears to have been done by a child — all of them faded by the smoke that engulfed the rooms when the house was torched.
“Yeah she is one of my crazy [girls], but she is a simple, talkative, funny little girl I’ve ever been around/ Hey it’s just a metter of time, till she realize how much I love you,” the poem reads. It’s signed “Lolo loves Kim” and dated January 25, 2017. The house was torched a month later when Rosettenville residents, tired of the sex and drugs trade, meted out their own form of justice.
A green overall jacket lays between the concrete rubble and charred wooden panels that held up the ceiling. Next to it, more evidence that the room is still being used to either smoke drugs or as a shelter: empty bottle-neck pipes with foil, small bankies with residual white powder and other detritus from lives being lived after the fire. As a brothel, the lounge acted as the reception area for the Johns. The wooden chairs that were torched when residents attempted to shut down the brothel would have seated its customers and a table outside kept the drugs for the night.
The cupboards in the hallway, too, are torched and ripped out. A recently placed empty two-litre plastic bottle stands upright on one of the remaining shelves.
To the right is the master bedroom, it’s wooden flooring also ripped out, its carpets still folded into a corner and the windows broken out, frames and all. The beds in this room were carried out along with the other furniture by protesting residents and set alight.
In the corner, between broken up pieces of concrete, lays a green worn-out identity book of a 24 year old woman. In her picture, the woman appears smiling with a bright pink shirt. In the back of the book, hidden between the pages, a brown piece of cardboard is found with her name and another date; August 24, 2016.
The meaning of the identity book or its place in the brothel and drug den, will remain a nearly unsolvable mystery. What is known, is that the master bedroom played host to a revolving client base in the brothel, and was the throne-room for the head pimp.
The two other bedrooms are smaller and appear to have been home to children. Their floors are missing and there is little evidence that they have been used after the house was torched and its roof collapsed. But these are the rooms that the majority of the sex-workers appeared to call home — a number of the neighbourhood’s residents described seeing more than five women living there at a time.
The electrical wiring that connected the stove and plug points in the kitchen have all been stripped, this is the only room in the house where the concrete floors are still covered in tiles. On top of a half broken cupboard is a R2250 BetXchange lottery ticket dated May 30, 2017. On the back of the ticket are combinations of numbers.
Inside and out, the pipes and wiring have also been torn from the walls. Mounds of broken glass and black soot serve as a replacement for the house’s burned flooring in the kitchen.
From being a home for a family then a spaza shop frequented by neighbours, then an inconspicuous brothel to becoming a popular drug den, 18 Norman Street has ghosts of the past lingering between its walls. But soon, it could be reduced to nothing at all, if the fate of completely destroyed brothels in Rosettenville is a sign of things to come.
All Photographs: By Delwyn Verasamy
This piece was published courtesy of the Mail & Guardian. Read the accompanying piece here.