Book Review: Welcome To Our Hillbrow, the other chapters

Posted on February 24, 2010

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Among the several topics that Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome To Our Hillbrow addresses is issue of xenophobia. Not only does it cover the topic as viewed from the local village of Tiragalong and the Hillbrow region of Johannesburg, it also follows it to the faraway lands of Oxford Brooke’s University and Heathrow International Airport, London. I find it interesting that this book emphasizes people’s interactions characterized by messages and stories that are not factual or have been embellished to meet the story teller’s desires. It is mostly as a result of the spread of these stories, or due to knee jerk reactions that Rafense, Lerato, Tshepo and other’s meet their ultimate demise. It is also through this means that different people come to be dubbed Mukwerekwere, Likwerekwere, Afrikans etcs. I think this is a major point that the author wants to underscore. That we come to view people as they are, based on either what we have heard about them or as a result of the beliefs that we have about them, as individuals or as a people. I believe that the author takes the topic of xenophobia to be a human condition that arises out of a lack of proper or meaningful interaction among people. Take for instance Rafense’s mother. While at Tiragalong, her beliefs about Johannesburg women were that, all of them are vile, evil and destroyers of men. It is because of this belief that she discourages the relationship between Rafense and Lerato, a Johannesburg lady, who she has never had a chance to meet. Yet, when the unfortunate (or fortunate depending) happens and both find themselves in “Our heaven” she shakes Lerato’s hand with a smile spreading across her face as she recognizes something Tiragalong about her. Her classic quote “if we had met in Tiragalong or in its neighboring villages, I would have said that, indeed men do spread like pumpkin plants!” underscores this point.

While reading Welcome to Our Hillbrow, I sometimes felt entrapped by the very pessimistic nature of the book. There is so much senseless death that often occurred out of individuals’ knee jerk reactions to life’s circumstances or out of mad and totally unfounded beliefs which some of the people believed in. However, I also felt that this book brings out the pessimism for a specific reason. That as long as people continued to judge others based on unconfirmed “stories”, they will always have predetermined notions about them and as a result might be led to hate them before meeting them in person, the end result of which is xenophobia. At the same time, the book underscores the point about reflection on life’s events that occur before taking action. That a lot of misery could be avoided if people are open, discuss events openly with others or just take a moment to put others in their own shoes. It was definitely a worthwhile reading and it gives me something to think about if I happen to pass through or live in Johannesburg or encounter xenophobia.

If you missed the review of the first two chapters, check it out here

This video by World Focus highlights the hostility that exists between South Africans and Immigrants, a problem that boiled over in 2008.


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