Johannesburg Stories

There are a million stories in the big city. Phaswane Mpe decided to tell the stories of Refentse and Refilwe two aspiring writers from a small fictional village named Tiragalong. The two main characters independently of one another moved to Johannesburg to continue their education and pursue their aspirations as writers and academics. The two main characters are like most Johannesburgers in that they came to the city in search for better opportunities. Johannesburg is viewed not only within South Africa but throughout the entire continent as a beacon of hope and prosperity. However, the city in many ways can also be cruel and brutally unfair. In many ways Refentse’s and Refilwe’s experiences in the big city represent the popular South African literary trope of Jim-Comes-to-Joburg. But, what is different in this post-apartheid storytelling is that every character has a story to tell about coming to Johannesburg. Whether you are foreign or native to South Africa, Johannesburg represents something aspirational to those who seek a better existence. Is Mpe positing that we all have the same hopes and desires for ourselves and our families? So, what does it truly mean to be a Johannesburger or more specifically a Hillbrowean?

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