Author: Alia

Xenophobia at an All-Time High

Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow is a post-apartheid narrative that is circled around three main subjects: Aids, Xenophobia, and Suicide. Although South Africa has come a long way since then, it is apparent by this very recent video that xenophobia within the country is still as resilient as ever. African born foreigners in South Africa, specifically in Johannesburg, are subject to heinous and violent xenophobic crimes. Many black South African locals that were interviewed suggested that these crimes are a result of the ‘Makwerekwere’ – foreigners – who are responsible for low wages and unemployment within the community. The number of crimes committed by locals against foreigners is far too big for the police to take control of. Or, as one commenter stated, it is because “the South African Police [are] one of the silent proponents of Xenophobia”, similar to Refentše’s cousin within the novel.

It is interesting how xenophobia, or cases of “criminality” as police officials from this video have described, are attributed to the facts aforementioned. In the book, however, where the events took place at a much earlier time frame, xenophobia was attributed to things such as the Makwerekwere women being, presumably, sexually loose and open-thighed, or to the claim that all Makwerekwere such as Nigerians were drug dealers and distributors.

How were these theories changed overtime and what caused them to change? Is this current resentment a result of preexisting notions of xenophobia in South Africa disguised as other resentments such as the ones described in the book? 

A Triptych of Unfortunate Events

Early on in the book, Johnson takes his time to explain the significance of toshers during the Victorian era – specifically the ‘night-soil men’. In those times, cities such as London did not have a formal system for waste management or recycling, and one of the biggest problems Victorian Londoners faced was human waste. With the help of people like the toshers who scavenged the sewers of London, waste was effectively collected and recycled. Among these toshers, were the night-soil men whose business grew with the rise of cesspools around the city, piled with human excrement. A night-soil man’s job entailed emptying cesspits and transporting all the excrement collected to the countryside where it was used as fertilizer. The more waste was managed by the night-men, the higher population density got, and so did the excrement, giving the night-men an incentive to raise their prices until no one could afford them. Thus, a cholera outbreak occurred.

Reindert Leonard Falkenburg interpreted the artwork above, The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych by the artist Hieronymus Bosch, as the fate of humanity. Although this theme is discussed in the context of religion, marriage, and sinful pleasure, this concept could if taken broadly, be applied to The Ghost Map. Think about the night-men and the cycle that led to the chaos and catastrophe that was caused by cholera.

What other aspects or narratives from The Ghost Map could this triptych further reflect? Is it also in the realm of “the fate of humanity” as Falkenburg mentioned? If yes, in what way?