Tatamkhulu Afrika - Nothing's Changed
What is it about? 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.”
What do I need to know about the author? Afrika lived in District Six during
apartheid and was actively involved in opposing it.
What poetic features are noteworthy? The structure is clearly divided into six
stanzas, appropriate for the clearly divided apartheid society and for a poem
about District Six.
The rhyme of, ‘heels’, ‘seeds’ and ‘weeds’ perhaps suggests the footsteps
that the stanza begins with.
The second stanza concentrates on strong images of body parts, perhaps
suggesting how closely the poet’s existence is tied to the place.
The third stanza uses angry words like, ‘brash’, ‘flaring’ which shows the
poet’s anger leading up to the ‘gatepost’ and the injustice of the ‘whites only inn.’
Note the pun on the word, ‘inn’ meaning both a place to stay and the act of
entering. The alliteration of, ‘guard at the gatepost’ draws attention to this part of
the poem which holds the key issue.
The fourth stanza contains images of, ‘glass’ which is a good image for
the invisible barrier of apartheid separating white and black people. The line, ‘No
sign says it is’ echoes the line in the second stanza; in apartheid it is what is NOT
said that is important ie. people in power don’t like to talk about the division of
whites and black but it happens all the same.
The fourth stanza’s, ‘crushed ice white glass’ belongs to the rich white
areas and contrasts with the fifth stanza’s ‘plastic table’s top’ that is for the poor
black people. The line, ‘it’s in the bone’ suggests that this divide is the result of
people’s bodies, their race and colour.
The sixth stanza again shows anger, a desire for, ‘a stone, a bomb’ to
break the glass and symbolically to end the separation between white and black.
Yet the last line, ‘nothing’s changed’ suggests that the author has little hope that
such an action would make things better. A pessimistic ending.
What are the key themes in the poem? How cultures interact, one culture
enslaving another, culture trying to prevent itself from mixing with another
Do I want to use it in the exam? POSSIBLY! It’s a poem that requires some
knowledge of the context, but there is a lot to talk about if you know the…