Welcome to Our Hillbrow

by

Phaswane Mpe

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Welcome to Our Hillbrow: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Refilwe did not know anything about Piet, Liz, and Lerato’s story. All Refilwe knew was that Lerato lived in Hillbrow, which made her a Johannesburger, which meant that she may be (at least partly) a Lekwerekwere. Although Refilwe didn’t tell her story using “vulgar words,” the people of Tiragalong gossiped that Lerato’s mother was “one of those women who could not say no to any drop of semen found flowing aimlessly through the streets.”
Refilwe still clearly holds prejudices towards people in Johannesburg and immigrants from other African countries. It is telling that one of the most vicious insults she could throw at Lerato is the suggestion that her father is a “Lekwerekwere”—this emphasizes how much hatred towards this group is in the air in Tiragalong. The villager’s vulgar gossip—crude and cruel on account of the suggestion that she might not be fully South African—exemplifies the type of rumors she had to face before her death. It’s also clear that there is a gendered element to the villager’s prejudice, since they use Lerato’s sexuality to further shame her.
Themes
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Refilwe loved Refentše, and she is devastated by his suicide. She always imagined—or hoped—that he would give up his foolish “adventurousness” and come back to her, a good woman from Tiragalong. Refilwe, unlike Lerato, could grieve without guilt when Refentše died. She thinks often about what she sees as Refentše’s “foolishness” (for not choosing her), which he exemplified the day that he came over to her apartment for dinner.
Refilwe is a complicated character because she is kind and devoted to Refentše, but she is also quite cruel to Lerato at this stage in the novel. By suggesting that Refentše’s love for Lerato is nothing but silly “adventurousness,” Refilwe looks down on Lerato. This furthers the idea that she is imperfect, but eventually she is able to learn and grow enough to understand her past mistakes.
Themes
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Prejudice and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Quotes
That night, Refentše arrived at Refilwe’s right on schedule. Refilwe was an excellent host, and she started off the night by letting Refentše choose the music—he picked Stimela. Refentše liked Stimela’s song “See the World through the Eyes of a Child” in particular because it was a song about both suffering and love. Refilwe was trying to make Refentše happy by letting him choose the music (and by cooking for him), but she had no way of knowing that this song just reminded him of Lerato.
Refilwe and Refentše clearly still have a lot of love for each other, even if that love takes different forms. Refentše shows that he wants to share romantic love with Lerato, even while Refilwe wishes that the two of them could get back together. Refentše’s emotions are connected to music, which we see throughout the story, and Stimela’s song links him back to Lerato.
Themes
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As Refilwe let her food simmer, hoping to remind Refentše about how nice it was when they were together, she took out old photographs. Refentše and Refilwe were in many of the pictures, embracing each other as lovers. In one of the pictures is a boy Refilwe went out with while she was seeing Refentše. This makes Refilwe think about how disappointing it was that Refentše hadn’t understood her back then and how he’d just left her. If he’d asked, he would have found out that none of those boys meant anything to her—at least not in the way Refentše had. But she also told the story about how she broke up with one of her lovers because she found him kissing someone else.
Again, Refilwe’s love is very different than Refentše’s love, but that doesn’t mean they are unequal—it just means they are different. It is noteworthy that Refentše ended up being cheated on by the same boy that she cheated on Refentše with; this mirrors the way that Refentše eventually experiences being cheated on after he cheats on Lerato. Throughout the novel, there are situations where characters inflict pain and are hurt in the same way, which shows that each character is imperfect but also that they are capable of understanding and empathy.
Themes
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Welcome to Our Hillbrow PDF
Refentše and Refilwe talked about many different things that night. She mentioned that she was thinking of pursuing another degree at university, and Refentše responded with enthusiasm. Refentše said he was sure she’d do well wherever she ended up—whether it was Wits or somewhere else, like Oxford Brookes. This is where the first “seeds” were “planted” for Refilwe about attending school abroad. Refentše told her to dream and to think big.
Once again, it is important that the novel shows how much Refentše cares for Refilwe, even though he is not interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with her. This suggests that there are many forms of intimacy and love and that they can all be fruitful. Refentše planting the “seeds” that end up bringing Refilwe abroad proves this.
Themes
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After dinner, Refilwe commented on how beautiful the music was. Then, she started to lightly cry, and Refentše embraced her. She told him that she loved him, saying she wished she could go back to the time when they were together, when they were “still children trying to find their way through the valleys and hills of life”—that is, when they were less cynical. She choked up, but Refentše knew exactly what she was talking about. He remembered both the “beauty” and the “bitterness” of their young love together.
Again, there is a tenderness between Refentše and Refilwe, even though Refentše is not going to accept Refilwe’s offer of romantic love. But their childhood connection shows how meaningful their shared link to the past is. Refentše thinking about how there was both “beauty” and “bitterness” in their young love focuses again on the idea of duality, and how both joy and sorrow can be found in almost every stage of life.
Themes
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The conversation with Refilwe reminded Refentše of the very first time he fell in love. The woman he fell for was honest with Refentše, telling him that, although she might love him, she couldn’t be with him because he didn’t have a car. Refentše was devastated because the shock of his poverty hit him for the first time. Back then, it was Sammy who had comforted Refentše, encouraging Refentše to find enjoyment in other outlets, like school. It was also Sammy who talked Refentše out of his first depressive suicidal thoughts.
This is one of the first and only descriptions of Sammy and Refentše’s relationship from earlier in their lives, and it reminds readers that they don’t know everything about Sammy. He has been a good friend to Refentše throughout the years, even if he slept with Lerato. It is also important to see that Refentše struggled with depression when he was younger, which further shows that Lerato should not have felt as guilty as she did about his death. She blamed herself entirely, even though there were many other factors that went into Refentše’s suicide. This underscores the weight of guilt and the importance of communication.
Themes
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The more Refentše thought about his past while having dinner Refilwe’s, the more he thought about Lerato. He realized that he could not betray her. As much as he loved Refilwe—and he did—it was Lerato who was always the “Bone of his Heart.” He told Refilwe this. He hoped that they could still be friends, since love doesn’t always have to mean a “love relationship.” He would be there for her, but not as a lover.
Refentše choosing not to cheat on Lerato for a second time again shows that he is growing through self-reflection.
Themes
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Refilwe argued that Refentše just admitted to loving her, and it would make more sense for him to be with someone from his home village. But as she started to say cruel things about the women from Johannesburg, Refentše reminded her that there are untrustworthy people all over—in Tiragalong, too. When he left Refilwe’s, he knew that she was unhappy, but he believed in that moment that one day she would find her own love, at which point they could and talk about their partners.
Refentše’s insistence that there are unreliable people no matter where you go (even back in Tiragalong) speaks to the book’s theme that every place has both good and bad, and so you cannot outrun your problems—you can only learn and grow if you want to become a better person.
Themes
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