Comparing two poems
This poem depicts a society where rich and poor are divided. In the apartheid era of racial segregation in South Africa, where the poem is set, laws, enforced by the police, kept apart black and white people. The poet looks at attempts to change this system, and shows how they are ineffective, making no real difference.
District Six” is the name of a poor area of Cape Town (one of South Africa's two capital cities; the other is Pretoria). This area was bulldozed as a slum in 1966, but never properly rebuilt. Although there is no sign there, the poet can feel that this is where he is: “...my feet know/and my hands.”
Similarly the “up-market” inn (“brash with glass” and the bright sign ,“flaring like a flag”, which shows its name) is meant for white customers only. There is no sign to show this (as there would have been under apartheid) but black and colouredpeople, being poor, will not be allowed past the “guard at the gatepost”. The “whites only inn” is elegant, with linen tablecloths and a “single rose” on each table. It is contrasted with the fast-food “working man's cafe” which sells the local snack (“bunny chows”). There is no tablecloth, just a plastic top, and there is nowhere to wash one's hands after eating: “wipe your fingers on your jeans”. In the third stanza the sense of contrast is most clear: the smart inn “squats” amid “grass and weeds”.
Perhaps the most important image in the poem is that of the “glass” which shuts out the speaker in the poem. It is a symbol of the divisions of colour, and class - often the same thing in South Africa. As he backs away from it at the end of the poem, Afrika sees himself as a “boy again”, who has left the imprint of his “small, mean mouth” on the glass. He wants “a stone, a bomb” to break the glass - he may wish literally to break the window of this inn, but this is clearly meant in a symbolic sense.