Shantytown Poem (Anonymous)

Shantytown Poem (Anonymous)


(Stanza 1)

Large on the veld on that plain

And significantly from streets and lights and cars and trucks

And bare of trees, and bare of grass,

Jabavu sleeps beneath the stars

(Stanza 2)

Jabavu sleeps.

The youngsters cough.

Cold creeps up, the tough night time chilly,

The earth is tight in just its grasp,

The highveld cold with out gentle rain,

Dry as the sand, tough as a rasp

The frost rimmed night time invades the shacks.

Via dusty ground

Through rocky ground

Via freezing ground, the night chilly creeps.

In cotton blankets, rags and sacks

Beneath the stars Jabavu sleeps.

(Stanza 3)

A single day Jabavu will awake

To greet a new and shining working day

The seem of coughing will grow to be

The children’s laughter as they play

In parks with flowers where dust now swirls

In robust-walled residences with warmth and light-weight.

But for tonight Jabavu sleeps.

Jabavu sleeps. The stars are vivid.


The poem was posted anonymously. It was afterwards found that Hilda Bernstein, who participated in the Communist Social gathering and was an anti-apartheid activist, wrote this poem.

The poem is established in Jabavu township in Johannesburg. Jabavu was a shantytown to the south of Johannesburg in the more substantial space acknowledged as Soweto. Today, shantytowns are known as informal settlements or squatter camps. South African shantytowns have constantly housed the poorest of the weak. Individuals develop makeshift homes out of corrugated iron and regardless of what resources they can locate. Jabavu, like most other black townships of the time, experienced no trees, electric power or roads. It is dry, dusty, and exceptionally chilly for the duration of wintertime. It is really tough for the people of Jabavu to shield them selves from sickness and the chilly. In the winter, the cold is oppressive. To keep out the cold, the people address themselves with skinny blankets, rags, and outdated sacks. The writer hopes that when apartheid finishes, Jabavu (and other townships) will be a better location to reside.

Today, Jabavu is nevertheless not a wealthy section of Soweto, but it has energy and primarily tarred streets. The the greater part of properties are uncomplicated, but they are solidly constructed with partitions and yards. There are a selection of schools that provide the spot as nicely as clusters of retailers and other products and services. Trees have been planted and there is a inexperienced, open up area termed Jabavu Park.

In advance of leaving Robben Island, Mandela realized that if he did not set the past guiding him and forgive, he would in no way be cost-free. So his assure of independence to the people today was directed at all South Africans – the rainbow country. With liberty comes responsibility. If people want to chuckle and really feel safe and sound and have the dignity that will come with remaining cost-free, they ought to work tough to encourage democracy. Liberation is for absolutely everyone and so all South Africans have to have to act responsibly, and regard everyone’s proper to freedom and dignity.

Wanting at a democratic South Africa now, the dilemma to ask is: are the the greater part of oppressed actually liberated?


It is tricky to say with certainty when this poem was composed as we do not know who the poet is. The poem was unquestionably created through Apartheid in South Africa, when townships experienced no electrical energy or streets. Lots of shacks had been crafted by people today coming to Johannesburg on the lookout for operate.

Type of poem

This poem has been explained as currently being free verse. It is a social commentary on extraordinary poverty and raises the issues of the children’s health and fitness and independence. It talks of how neglected this location is in conditions of basic solutions like electrical power. It is concerned with the lack of inexperienced, safe and sound spaces in which little ones can play. The poem is satirical, criticizing the apartheid government’s rulers and their apartheid guidelines.


The speaker is unnamed (possibly the poet). The speaker employs the third particular person narrative. He describes the problems in Jabavu and what he sees for the long run. He addresses modern society as a complete so that everyone can understand the struggling of men and women in shantytowns and be concerned in bringing about optimistic alter.


The voice is of somebody who is familiar with Jabavu well and has almost certainly lived there. He understands all the problems and struggling of the folks, specially in wintertime. He has a vision for significantly better dwelling conditions in the foreseeable future. His tone is descriptive, despairing (unfortunate and nervous) and then hopeful.


The poem is divided into a few stanzas. Jabavu is explained in each stanza. The initially stanza describes Jabavu’s isolation from the city (“much from streets and lights and autos”). Jabavu has no trees or grass due to the fact it is not shielded (“beneath the stars”). The 2nd verse goes into even more depth relating to the people’s hardship in excess of the wintertime. They are equally chilly and unwell. The closing verse transports us to the hopeful long term of a well-made and cared-for Jabavu. It has developed into a desired destination for nutritious young children to play in charming parks. Persons live in dignified dwellings with electrical power. They are all risk-free and relaxed. The speaker features a rosy photo of his hopes for the upcoming.


Discrimination in South Africa

During Apartheid, black people ended up not authorized to very own houses around the metropolitan areas. Townships had been constructed exterior of cities and metropolitan areas for them. They stayed in these regions and worked in the town/city through the day. There ended up no simple providers furnished to these locations. The govt neglected the individuals residing in these locations. Most products and services had been made in town and city suburbs for the white folks only.

Poverty in South Africa

Throughout Apartheid, the wide greater part of black individuals near cities and towns lived below harsh circumstances. As a lot more and much more people today moved to be close to the town for work, the townships crammed with men and women who had no suitable housing. A lot of lived in informal settlements in open regions. They also designed shacks in other people’s yards. The dwelling disorders in townships ended up very harmful, specially for children.

The development of the themes

Shantytown is an additional term for an casual settlement. The poet describes the severe living problems of a shantytown in Soweto, termed Jabavu. He is aware Jabavu very well and probably lived there himself. The problems in Jabavu have been quite very similar to quite a few other casual settlements in South Africa at the time. The speaker describes the emptiness of the area. The land is wholly barren: ‘Dry as the sand’ (line 10) and ‘dusty’ (line 12) and ‘rocky’ (line 13). Nothing grows there in wintertime. It is ‘bare of trees, and bare of grass’ (line 3). It is situated on the highveld, with extremely cold winters. Young children have develop into sick since of these circumstances. Persons locate it impossible to shield them selves from the cold which ‘invades the shacks’ (line 11).

Their slender ‘cotton blankets, rags and sacks’ (line 15) offer no heat against the cold. Folks are dwelling in poverty and are not able to afford to pay for thick, heat blankets. Despite what the poet sees and probably also experiences – the poverty and terrible situations – he is stuffed with hope. He desires of something superior. He ends the poem on a take note of optimism when he describes how much greater lifestyle in Jabavu could be in the long term.


Stanza 1: Jabavu sleeps (dormancy)

Practically, the people in Jabavu are asleep at night. The darkish night symbolizes apartheid. The cold symbolizes the white government’s absence of problem or empathy for the oppressed. For the duration of apartheid, the black folks did not working experience liberty and they did not have the similar legal rights as white men and women. Townships like Jabavu were considerably from sources of work and lacked the infrastructure and expert services for sustainable development. They lacked enough sanitation, drinking water, and refuse removing expert services. There were being no good properties, educational institutions, or clinics. Poverty, disease, and malnutrition ended up rife. At first, they recognized their destiny. This was the time period of dormancy, inactivity – slumber.

Stanza 2: Through dusty floor/By way of rocky floor/Through freezing floor

Poverty, hardship and struggling is emphasised in the graphic of the dusty, rocky and freezing ground upon which the men and women sleep inside their shacks.

Stanza 3: Jabavu will awake (hope)

The anti-apartheid motion at some point led to the launch of Nelson Mandela from jail. It is this anti-apartheid motion that we figuratively phone their awakening. They begun to fight from the regulations of apartheid. Some turned activists preventing for democracy. As the initial president of the new democratic governing administration, Nelson Mandela promised the black individuals liberty. This would ensure them human dignity. In his inauguration speech, Nelson Mandela instructed the men and women of South Africa that it is their proper to be absolutely free and that is what the new authorities would continually try to achieve. In his speech, he promised the men and women that they would be free of charge from want, starvation, deprivation, ignorance, suppression, and fear. Flexibility from want implies that the folks of South Africa would no extended dwell in poverty. The black people today would not stay in townships of deficiency like Jabavu – in which there are no roads, electricity, clinics, etc. This meant that they would be absolutely free to achieve or acquire no matter what they required or sought after. They would also no longer be deprived of anything at all. They would be ready to have whatever content advantages that they considered currently being primary requirements in society. They would also have the independence to be educated. Equality would assure inclusive excellent education and learning for all. They would be ready to pick their profession and reach their desires. Nelson Mandela promised them that they would no lengthier be suppressed and they would no for a longer period live in fear. It was important to Nelson Mandela that everybody lived in liberty so that they would have human dignity. This is what we have an understanding of in the first line of stanza 3 when the poet writes “A single working day Jabavu will awake”.

Stanza 3: laughter

“The seem of coughing will develop into/The kid’s laughter as they perform”. The children’s illness will turn out to be well being. This includes psychological health and fitness – not keeping grudges keeping on to the past does not cost-free you. It tends to make you bitter.

Stanza 3: sturdy-walled households

Protection. The persons hope to are living a existence without having fear.

Figurative language


The poet repeats sure phrases or phrases in the poem.

“And bare of trees, and bare of grass” (line 3). Basically there is definitely nothing at all growing in the region. Figuratively the men and women are poor – they have practically nothing.

The phrase “chilly” is utilized four occasions all through the poem and emphasizes the serious chilly. Making an attempt to hold heat is all that the persons can imagine about at night. In lines 12 to 14, the poet repeats ‘through’ and ‘ground’. The cold is so intensive and powerful that almost nothing stops it, not even dust or rocks. In lines 14 and 15, the poet emphasises the cold once again: “the night cold creeps./In cotton blankets”.

“Jabavu sleeps” is repeated 5 times at the beginning and finish of stanzas. The to start with two stanzas describe the township at evening all through winter. Men and women are desperately making an attempt to rest but struggle mainly because it is so chilly. In truth, Jabavu and its people today are not sleeping. It is only in stanza 3 that we comprehend that the poet is using the term “sleeps” symbolically. The speaker thinks that Jabavu’s long term will be a fantastic improvement on its earlier. When that occurs, it will be as if the township will have “woken up” from its lengthy sleep of poverty and suffering. These harsh situations are temporary, only “for tonight” (line 23). The last line expresses this hope by repeating ‘Jabavu sleeps’, but we now know that the stars above are ‘bright’ symbols of hope.


Conjunctions are recurring.

“And considerably from streets and lights and cars and trucks/And bare of trees, and bare of grass”.


The identical phrases at the begin of a line are recurring.

“And considerably from streets and lights and autos/And bare of trees, and bare of grass”.

“Jabavu sleeps” at the close of stanza 1 and “Jabavu sleeps” at the begin of stanza 2.


Non-living things are specified human characteristics.

Jabavu, the shantytown, is as opposed to a particular person who is asleep and will wake up ‘One day’ (line 17). Jabavu will be able to “greet” every person just as people today say “superior morning” to each individual other at the start off of a “new and shining working day” (line 18). The rest is momentary and the poet is certainly positive that Jabavu will be ready to “awake” to a improved earth in the foreseeable future.

The wintertime chilly is also personified by the poet. It is described as unstoppable because it “creeps” or crawls into every little thing. It is like an enemy that attacks and “invades” (line 11) a town and its properties.


Two things are explained as getting one thing in common. The phrases ‘like’ or ‘as’ are utilised.

Line 10 has two similes:

“Dry as the sand” compares the harsh dryness of the cold winter to sand simply because there is no rain.

“tough as a rasp” compares the cold to a steel software rubbing against the pores and skin. In other text, the cold of winter season is so serious that it feels distressing.


The original consonant appears of phrases are repeated.

In stanza 1, the f and b appears are repeated: “far from streets… ” “bare of trees, and bare of grass”.

In stanza 2, the c and r appears are repeated.

“The small children cough./Cold creeps up”. This challenging seem emphasises the harshness of the disorders in Jabavu.

In line 10, the r audio is repeated: “tough as rasp”.

In stanza 3, the p seem is repeated: “play/in parks”.