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'Nothing's Changed' is an angry poem. It is about the experience of returning to South Africa after the system of racial separation, called Apartheid, had been overturned.
Apartheid was a system in which the majority black population were treated little better than slaves. They had separate schools, separate transport, and separate parts of towns and cities. Few human rights were upheld for the black population. For example, they had no right to vote.
The tiny white population ruled through the poverty of the blacks and the brutality of the police force.
Nelson Mandela's and the African Congress's rise to power has been hailed all around the world as a magnificent example of the triumph of justice and the human spirit.
On his return the poet, Tatamkhulu Afrika, expects a new more just, less racially divided country - this poem expresses his bitter disappointment that 'Nothing's Changed'.
Like Blessing, this poem tells us a lot of information about life in a foreign country.
- Stanza one provides a sensual description of a kind of overgrown wasteland around District Six, a notorious part Care Town. The name District Six sounds faintly ominous, like a segregated area.
- Stanza three tells us about the sort of world the white population can still inhabit.
- Stanza five compares this with the world of the black population.
The other stanzas explain or describe the poet's feelings.
In the table below are some statements about life in South Africa, drawn from the poem, and some quotes/evidence...
|The land around the two restaurants is wasteland. This suggests poverty, decay and neglect||Seeding grasses... bearded seeds... cans... weeds...|
|Whilst the old signs have been taken down, it is still clear to everyone which is a white and which a black area||District Six No board says it is.|
|Not only is the segregation still there, new examples are developing. The whites still have power and money||new, up-market... guard... whites only inn.|
|The new developments are self-confident almost showing themselves off. There is little sign of guilt or fear||Brash...|
|The barriers separating people are subtler now. You may not be able to see them, but hey are there nevertheless||Glass... Crushed ice white glass.|
|These are images of delicate, fragile beauty and of wealth and exclusivity||linen falls, the single rose.|
|It is clear to everyone which parts are white, and which black||No sign says it is: But we know where we belong.|
|The black café and its food is much more basic, ordinary, cheap||Plastic table top... wipe your fingers... spit...|
|There is a stark, incredible contrast between the white and black areas, and yet these are right next to each other. This seems a provocation to trouble||The stanza on the white restaurant is isolated, on its own, in between the stanza on the scrubland and the one on the working man's café.|
The poet is incensed by what he sees in his homeland. Notice how he feels the racial separation in every part of his body (feet, hands, skin, etc.). How the feeling of exclusion takes him back to his childhood feelings, as if nothing has changed since then. Notice the bitter irony with which he refers to black people knowing 'where we belong', in 'its in the bone, and 'small mean mouth'. He is so provoked he wants to destroy the glass restaurant.
What two things can 'Nothing's Changed' refer to?
What is your attitude to his anger?
How would you feel if you imagine yourself in a similar situation?
How might knowing more about South Africa's history effect your view?
In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:
- The subject(s) of the poem
- The attitude of the poet
- The poetic devices the poet uses
In other words you will be asked about what the poet is writing about, what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.
|The poem is about the state of South Africa and the poet's feelings about it.|
|Afrika had obviously hoped to see improvements after the fall of the Apartheid government. Instead he sees things have hardly changed.|
|In some ways they have got worse. The barriers and racism are now more subtle, and perhaps therefore more difficult to confront.|
|The poem ends with the poet's hands burning for violence to destroy all the injustice he can see.|
|The poem is full of anger. It is a protest, and a cry of pain.|
|Rather than the white culture feeling guilt and making some kind of recompense for its years of oppression and murder, the 'brash' restaurant symbolises confidence, even arrogance, certainly not shame.|
|The poet uses sensual imagery to convey the sense of the surrounding. The opening line is 5 separate monosyllables that we see 'small, round', touch 'hard', and hear 'click'.|
|In the second stanza he uses repetition and a lengthening line to convey the build up of his anger, and how it consumes every part of him.|
|The stanza on the 'whites only inn' is in the middle of the poem.|
|There are a lot of full stop used in the poem, with the last one sounding final, unanswerable, certain: 'Nothing's changed.'|