Welcome to Our Hillbrow is an exhilarating and disturbingride through the chaotic and hyper-real zone of Hillbrow—microcosm of all that is contradictory, alluring, and painful in the postapartheid South African psyche. Everythingis there: the shattered dreams of youth, sexuality and its unpredictable costs, AIDS, xenophobia, suicide, the omnipotent violence that often cuts short the promise of young people’s lives, and the Africanist understanding of the life continuum that does not end with death but flows on into an ancestral realm. Infused with the rhythms of the inner-city pulsebeat, this courageous novel is compelling in its honesty and its broad vision, which links Hillbrow, rural Tiragalong, and Oxford. It spills out the guts of Hillbrow—living with the same energy and intimate knowledge with which the Drum writers wrote Sophiatown into being.
First published in South Africa in 2001, this haunting novel from the late postapartheid intellectual Mpe (1970 2004) ventures into South Africa's xenophobia and the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic. The story takes the form of a eulogy by an anonymous narrator, addressed directly to its deceased subject, Refentse, revisiting the events leading up to his suicide. The first from rural Tiragalog to get a Master's in Arts and become a university lecturer, Refentse arrives in the rough-and-tumble Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow and quickly becomes mired in a web of passion and betrayal among friends and lovers. Despite his stormy personal life, Refentse pursues "a mission to explore Hillbrow in writing" and decides he must forgo his native Sepedi language and write in English to reach a wider audience, a theme Refentse explores in a short story about a female author whose loyalty to her native tongue ensures the marginalization of her career and whose ambitions are eclipsed by her rapid deterioration caused by AIDS, a fate readers discover might have mirrored the fictional author's had he not taken his own life. Heavily influenced by oral storytelling traditions and yet fully engaged with the world it's set in, this is a powerful novel from a talent cut down unfortunately early.