Nothing’s changed is an autobiographical poem written by Tatamkhulu Afrika; a white South African who grew up in Cape Town’s Disrict Six. The apartheid government declared District Six as an area for only white people, and soon after, the area was destroyed. In this poem he returns to District Six to find the black people in the same situation as before, and though apartheid is said to have been abolished they are still discriminated against. He states that in fact, nothing has changed.
When the poet first arrives to District Six in stanza one, he describes the wasteland and overgrown area surrounding him. The first line consists of a sentence with monosyllabic words and each word is therefore stressed; “small round hard stones click”. They are also onomatopoeic words and this adds more effect to the opening sentence of the poem. We are informed that there are cans scattered about amidst “tall, purple-flowering, amiable weeds”. The “trodden on” cans is possibly a metaphor suggesting that the cans are like the black people being trodden on by white people.
Overall the area described seems to be unkempt and neglected; people simply do not care for it anymore as the whites do not care about the black people. Afrika see’s a “new, up-market” restaurant which is “brash with glass”. These two words produce harsh sounds, and the word brash instantly tells us how showy this place is. He peers through the glass and sees that the inside is elegant and expensive; with a “guard at the gatepost” ensuring that only white people enter. Amongst the weeds, Port Jackson trees are starting to grow.
They suggest that this particular area is beginning to create a more sophisticated look, because Port Jackson is a smarter area of Cape Town. The restaurant offers ‘haute cuisine’ which is high class food. The poet maintains his description of the restaurant in the next stanza. He knows what he will see inside, but presses his nose “to the clear panes” to confirm and prove his beliefs. The clear pane window shows class, as everything is superior and expensive with “crushed ice white glass”, a linen tablecloth, and a “single rose” on each table.
The words clear, glass, ice and white are cold words, and this is the second time the poet has used the word “white” in the poem. The poet compares this elegant restaurant to the “working man’s cafe ” nearby. This stanza emphasises the huge inequalities between black and white people and the contrast is used very effectively. The lovely table settings of the expensive and guarded restaurant are vividly compared to an unsophisticated working man’s cafe with cheap furniture and cheap food. The “haute cuisine” is distinctively contrasted to the “bunny chows”.
Like a small, grubby place, without posh toilets or serviettes, you “wipe your fingers on your jeans” and you “spit a little on the floor” because there is no need to try to keep the place tidy and clean, or perhaps because the food does not taste very good. The last line of the stanza, “it’s in the bone” is filled with bitterness and sarcasm. He suggests that these people behave like that instinctively because they are too poor and looked down upon to enter a place where manners are kept and maintain them. With sarcasm there is also the idea maybe if given the chance, they are just as sophisticated and classy as white people.
In the final stanza the poet moves back from the window and feels the same hatred that he in his childhood at the time of the apartheid government. The “small mean O” may be of his expression but also the breath mark that has been left on the glass as he stares with anger and disgust. He is angry because the black people are still treated as if they are inferior to the white people and throughout the other 5 stanzas his fury has built up to this point. He wants to smash the glass and destroy the restaurant, “Hands burn for a stone, and a bomb”.
The reader can imagine how his hands “burn” for revenge and the want to get a bomb to “shiver down the glass”. The last line reiterates the title, that even after all this time, even after the apartheid government has been abolished “Nothing’s changed. ” A Comparison between Nothing’s Changed and Two Scavengers Nothing’s Changed by Tatumkhulu Afrika is about the segregation between black and white people and “Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two beautiful People in a Mercedes” by Laurence Ferlinghetti is about two couples who are different because of their social class and wealth.
They have many similarities but are also different in some ways. They are both very effective poems which are written to state some kind of inequality between people, and they are both globally key issues. Afrika’s poem is set in South Africa, Cape town, and Ferlinghetti’s poem is set in San Francisco in America; one is a third world country and the other is a highly developed country, yet there are still prejudices in both.
Analysis of Nothing's changed by Tatmkhulu Afrika
- Length: 849 words (2.4 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The poem Nothing’s changed is based on an apartheid in district six near cape town in south Africa exploring the portrayal of racism. The ironic title reveals to the reader how the apartheid has changed nothing but the physical appearance of district six.
The poet gives the reader the impression that the speaker in the poem has grown up throughout his childhood in district six and has left and returned after the apartheid has supposedly begun.
The poem is written in enjambment and is said as a narrative, in stanza one the speaker has returned to district six that has evicted all its ethnic cultures to be replaced by a white minority, to find that the place is a shambles and people have no respect for it he talks about the “seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds into trouser cuffs, cans, trodden on” this shows how littered it has become, the fact he mentions it shows the reader it did not use to be like that. Also the mention of the “purple-flowering amiable weeds”, purple being the colour known for dried blood implies to the reader that some sort of massacre went on throughout the apartheid, and amiable meaning sociable and friendly as a mask over what is really going on in the village.
The overall emotion in the poem is revengeful and tragic, however the emotion from the speaker is anger and repulsion towards the white minority and the way they have took over the black’s home, he is aware that he has entered district six without any acknowledgement towards his surrounding, the way he says “District six.” As a short sentence sounds cold but built up with anger, he knows where he is and he doesn’t particularly want to be there.” No board says it: but my feet know,” this gives the impression he has steps on this ground many times before for his own feel to be aware of its surroundings, “and the skin about my bones, and the soft labouring of my lungs, and the hot, white, inward turning anger of my eyes.” The repetition of “and” makes the wording like a list and makes out the speaker has endless bad feelings towards this environment.
Afrika then talks about the new buildings that have emerged since he has been gone to illustrate the diverse condition between the two social cultures within his society.
He talks about the new building “flaring like a flag” as if it is taunting him, “it squats in the grass and weeds,” this gives the reader a horrible impression of the place but also implies the building stand out of its surrounds, it doesn’t belong there.
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The building he is looking at is portrayed as some sort of restaurant with it’s, “crushed ice white glasses, linen falls, the single rose” it is seen as a utopia to the speaker. He knows he is not allowed in there even though he resents it he deeply desires to go in and live like they live. “whites only inn” the “inn” is spelt as if it is a hotel as well as a restaurant which gives the impression that district six is now a tourist sight.
The next stanza straight after the stanza involving the “haute cuisine” talks about the working man’s café the place is made to sound cheep and tacky in comparison to the high class restaurant up the road.
Afrika also emphasizes his anger and feelings towards his position in society by saying “we know were we belong” and were he says “wipe your fingers on your jeans, spit a little on the floor: it’s in the bone” this gives the impression that all the blacks are made out to be judged and impolite in the area.
Also Africa goes back to the childhood of the speaker when things were exactly the same “I back from the glass, boy again, leaving a small mean O of small mean mouth.” he just has a eclipse of the same thing happening in his child hood and exactly the same thing is happening now. Even his breath is thought of as mean and unwanted it’s as if he is saying he has no voice and his opinions will never be heard as they weren’t when he was a child.
This makes his angry, he wants to do something about it, “hands burn” it’s as if he is being tempted to do something and he can’t stop himself, “for a stone, a bomb, to shiver down the glass.” Shiver down the glass creates a sence of depression, he does not just want to smash the glass he wants to destroy this barrier that is preventing him living a happy life of equality and acceptance.
The final line of the poem is a repetition of the title to remind the reader what the poem is about, the fact that nothings changed and it never will, “Nothing’s changed.” Also gives the reader the feel that the speaker has now given up and he has nothing more to say and the situation he is in is an impossible one.