Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hillbrow, My New Home: Drugs, Prostitutes & Excitement

Kgothatso Madisa

Hillbrow is a notorious Johannesburg suburb that many in South Africa have heard about. Sometimes we dismiss the stories we hear as untrue because people tend to exaggerate the smallest happenings. Some would say Hillbrow is not different from any other place as crime is found on every corner of South Africa. I have been living in Hillbrow for a few months now and have definitely seen things, things that are shocking for my young, innocent Mpumalanga eyes.

On arrival in this part of Johannesburg a cousin took me on a tour of the once plush suburb. It was still day time and the place was packed with hawkers, beggars and joy seekers. It looked as a thriving part of Johannesburg where Africa meets as there were immigrants from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa – I just couldn’t tell where the rest were from. They all contribute a segment of their part of the continent to Hillbrow. The many accents one hears here are also an exciting part of this cosmopolitan society.
As we walked, my cousin and I decided to stop at a street vendor’s table to buy something to eat. I then realised that some street vendors in Hillbrow don’t just seel sweets, chewing gum, chips and other snacks – they keep bags under their tables or behind their stalls where, from time to time, they’d pull out wrapped packages they don’t keep displayed on top of their tables like the others they sell. Often you’d see young rich people from plush suburbs getting out of their fancy cars to pay the vendors to give them some of these packages. This is when I realised some of the people we buy snacks from in my new neighbourhood also work as drug dealers or pushers.

It didn’t take me long to realise that drugs are everywhere in Hillbrow as I had heard. You would see people exchanging packages on street corners with passers by going on about their business as if they see nothing. It’s no secret who the pushers are as those in need of a fix walk straight to them when they need to buy and they can get them immediately. The police are constantly on patrol and their vehicles would pass pushers’ stalls daily but they seem not to notice this happening or it seems not to bother them at all.

When the sun goes down, this part of town continues to be busy on weekends but it clears out almost completely during the week. That doesn’t mean the drugs trade stops, it moves indoors or is done over the phone with street corner meetings still happening.

At about 19:30, on the day I took a walk with my cousin, we stumbled upon an establishment called Hillbrow Inn. We went in and discovered that here one can enjoy a drink whilst being entertained by a woman in just a bra and panties. These women were also trying hard to seduce every man that was in the place. I think this is where I will withhold some of the information that took place inside the Hillbrow Inn.

Hillbrow is also not a well-kept place. At night one would see street sweepers in other parts of the Johannesburg city centre as they get rid of all the day’s dirt to make sure that the following day starts anew, with its own garbage. The same can’t be said about this neighbourhood as there are water leaks all over. In places it looks like clean water running down the road and in others it would have dirt that gives it different colours depending on which part of the area one is in.

Being in Hillbrow has made me realise how much I value security and safety. The place I feel most comfortable in this part of Johannesburg is in my apartment, but I still take in the smells, the cultures and the excitement.


  1. seems you had nice time,i have lived in hillbrow for years but havnt encountered any of those things
    got what you wanted,so why yu complaining,every area in sa has a hooker and a nigerian pusher,life goes on

  2. I have visited hillbrow many tyms but never saw any of that but wht cn i say its life pple will do anything to live so we must not judge them

  3. I hv stayed in hillbrow bt i have neva seen rich people coming to buy frm vendors

  4. people cnt find jobs so they ended up doing prostitution and others are educated

  5. Hillbrow is full of prostitutes Hillbrow inn Ambassador all full of drugs and bitches

  6. You hit the nail on the head, i think you should have visited corner O'reilly Rd and Fife Avenue you would have witness the real Drug dealers or pushers.

  7. I have stayed in Hillbrow for 10 years and what i can say is the number one criminals are the COPS....They are probably the drug lords and the way they are quick to take bribes for offenses is quite upsetting.And yes,prostitution and drugs are everywhere in SA.For you to stay and survive in Hillbrow you have to be streetwise,know the no go zones, stay at your flat ,leave your smartphones and valuables at home, but i applaud Hillbrow coz there are few hijacking cases compared to other places....