“Welcome to our Hillbrow…welcome to our Alexandra… welcome to our Tiragalong in Johannesburg…welcome to our England…welcome to our Heaven”.
There are a number of things I find fascinatingly wrong with the above phrases. The most obvious of my issues is the very fact that I cannot decipher who the narrator is and what his/her relationship is to some form of constructed identity or structured community. By constantly welcoming foreigners to “our” stated communities, the narrator is implying the he/she is already a part of those communities. How is it possible to belong to Hillbrow, Alexandra, Tiragalong, England and heaven, all at the same time? I postulate that it might be because the narrator has a fluid sense of identity. ‘Identity’ for our narrator is not rooted in socially-constructed ideals of identity by descent (birth and breeding). But, identity as part of a community is rooted in one’s present spatio-temporal world. Essentially, as one moves, so does his or her relation to a community. It is unclear as to whether the narrator abandons his previous belongings to other communities by adapting to newer ones, but it is evident from my understanding of the novel that because change and movement are very dynamic, one’s form of identity should equally be dynamic.
The second issue with the above phrasings rests in the extents to which one is truly welcomed as part of a community. Throughout the book, Mpe creates strong tension between the foreigners and the locals- the Hillbrowans vs. the people from Johannesburg, the black South Africans vs. the black foreigners, the ‘Africans’ [excluding (white) South Africans] vs. the British, etc. So, even though it may seem like the foreigners are being welcomed with open arms, one cannot help but take this invitation with a grain of salt or some form of hesitation as the invitation might not be truly sincere.