Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to our Hillbrow (2001)

Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to Our Hillbrow

And when you finally come to this part of your journey that ends in the blank wall of suicide… with the spinning of cars the prostitution drug use and misuse the grime and crime the numerous bottles diving from flat balconies giving off sparks o red and yellow from mid-air reflections of street and flat neon lights only to crush on unfortunate souls’ skulls the neon welcoming lights the peace of mind you could see in many Hillbrowans the liveliness of the place and places collapsing while others got renovated new concrete and brick structures standing up where you thought there was no longer any space for anything Quirinalle Hotel changing names and you hoped activities to Badiri House Chelsea Hotel closing down robbery moving flowing from Hillbrow into its neighbours especially Berea and Braamfontein as the media had it Mail & Guardian and David Philip Publishers and others changing offices moving out of this increasingly dilapidated and menacing Braamfontein while others found it to be quite an investment and so coming in to build and occupy their lush offices the Department of Home Affairs moving from downtown Johannesburg into Braamfontein and Makwerekwere drifting into and out of Hillbrow and Berea having split into Berea from Hillbrow according to many xenophobic South Africans and their glamorising media and into Braamfontein to sort out their refugee affairs and the streets of Hillbrow and Berea and Braamfontein overflowing with Makwerekwere come to pursue green pastures after hearing that the new president Rolihlahla Mandela welcomes guests and visitors unlike his predecessors who erected deadly electric wire fences around the boundaries of South Africa trying to keep out the barbarians from Mozambique Zaïre Nigeria Congo Ivory Coast Zimbabwe Angola Zambia from all over Africa fleeing their war-torn countries populated with starvation like Ethiopia flashing across Cousin’s TV screen every now and then Makwerekwere stretching their legs and spreading like pumpkin plants filling every corner of our city and turning each patch into a Hillbrow coming to take our jobs in the new democratic rainbowism of African Renaissance that threatened the future of the locals Bafana Bafana fans momentarily forgetting xenophobia and investing their hopes in the national team whose entry into the World Cup was its first attempt in such matters the fans also investing in the Moroccan team the Nigerian Super Eagles and singing at least they are African unlike the French the English the Danes and all that jazz and xenophobia revisited through images of Philip Troussier the Bafana Bafana coach as a sinister Frenchman come to ensure that his country wins the Cup by crippling South Africans…

All these things that you have heard seen heard about felt smelt believed disbelieved shirked embraced brewing in your consciousness would find chilling haunting echoes in the simple words…

Welcome to our Hillbrow…

—Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to our Hillbrow. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2001, pp. 25-7.

Leave a Reply