Can We Walk Away from Hillbrow?

Oh, the seductive allure of heaven!

But can heaven be the answer? Can one escape from life once dead?

As the illness Oswald had in Ibsen’s Ghosts was inherited from his father, the identity of the region is inherited. One is born into the region. The repetitive phrase that follows the names of the character, “Refentse, child of Tiragalong and Hillbrow,” for instance, constantly reminds Refentse and the readers that the bond between an individual and the region is stronger than one might assume, and perhaps unbreakable. It is interesting to note that Refentse, even after his death, remains in heaven, or our “new” Hillbrow, watching whatever is happening in the region. As mentioned in the novel, one cannot simply leave home. “Home travels with you.”

The unbreakable bond between the individual and one’s home in the novel somehow reminds me of the short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin. ¬†Omelas, a fictional ideal village in the story, is maintained on one condition that one child must be kept in perpetual misery in a dark grim room. People who had lived happily in Omelas, when confront the truth where their happiness is coming from, are shocked. The majority keeps on living in Omelas but a few people decide to walk away from Omelas, leaving their ideal happy village behind. But are they exempt from the sins and problems of Omelas? Likewise in “Welcome to Our Hillbrow” some characters decide to leave their city either by simply moving somewhere or by committing suicide. All the characters, however, end up returning to Hillbrow. Walking away simply does not clear one from obligations.

The book concludes with Refilwe’s death, welcome by “our heaven.” The characters, even after death, will reunite in heaven. They continue their existence. It’s quite scary when we think that there is no end. Hillbrow will keep welcoming its returnees again and again and again and…

Walk away if you can.


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  1. Kee. This. Right here. Is deep.
    The idea of carrying home with you averywhere you go means that you really are never far away from home. Moreover, that one’s extended stay in a location adds to their homes as opposed to replacing their immediate former home must force us to reconsider what exactly home means.
    This can be expanded on in several ways. For one, carrying your home with you as you go along can have both negative and positive consequences, as Refentse’s mother’s opinions about Lerato show (we all know how THAT ended up). It can give one a sense of community and kinship that extends beyond one’s physical presence in a location, such that while Refentse had been in Jo’burg for a long time (undergrad, masters, work), he was still considered a part of the Tiragalong community, and they still cared what happened to him despite his physical absence.
    That one can have multiple places they call home lends credence to the adage “home is where the heart is”. But is it then split between the different locations when there is more than one? Lerato and Refentse’s mum would make it out to be this way. Or can one’s heart be fully, simultaneously, be a part of different locations, and conflict thus only arises if there is conflict between parties in those different locations? The passage of time doesn’t make somewhere any less home (once it has been established as such) hence the idea of Tiragalong, Jo’burg, and Oxford all being home rather than one home after another.

    And heaven? Don’t get me started.

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