Oh Africa!

When I was teaching GCSE a few years ago we had to study a poetry anthology containing poems from other cultures and traditions.  I learnt an lot from them.  One of the poems was "Nothing's Changed" by Tatumkahula Africa.  It's a very powerful poem about District 6 in Cape Town and how it felt to return there for a former resident who left during the land clearances.  Today we drove through District 6 having been to the District 6 Museum.  It is still very much an open expanse of unused empty scruffy land where people could have still been living had it not been for the laws associated with apartheid.  

We went from there to the Township of Langa just on the outskirts of Cape Town and we were taken round by a young man who was once a child of the Township.  He was an extremely articulate and charismatic guide who shared with us his pride and his hopes and also his despair at the high unemployment figures and how long it took for people to get somewhere half decent to live.  The people who want some space and privacy away from the shared accommodation in the townships build themselves an illegal shelter in the shanty towns.  If it is on state owned land and they can get to live in it for 8 hours, then it becomes a state issue and they go on the waiting list for a house.  They may have to wait for 10 years or more.  He took us to the kindergarten where the children were wonderful - they sang and they danced and were full of joy - in marked contrast to the young men on the streets who need to be given hope for the future in fulfilment of the idea that education is the way to a better life.

It's been a tremendously thought-provoking day as we ended the day in the shopping malls and waterfront properties at the Victoria and Alfred (yes, Alfred, her second son) development surrounded by tourists and very few locals apart from those working there.

Oh Africa.  May all your young people be filled with hope and pride...

Nothing’s Changed
Small round hard stones click 
under my heels, 
seeding grasses thrust 
bearded seeds 
into trouser cuffs, cans, 
trodden on, crunch 
in tall, purple-flowering, 
amiable weeds. 

District Six. 
No board says it is: 
but my feet know, 
and my hands, 
and the skin about my bones, 
and the soft labouring of my lungs, 
and the hot, white, inwards turning 
anger of my eyes. 

Brash with glass, 
name flaring like a flag, 
it squats 
in the grass and weeds, 
incipient Port Jackson trees: 
new, up-market, haute cuisine, 
guard at the gatepost, 
whites only inn. 

No sign says it is: 
but we know where we belong. 

I press my nose 
to the clear panes, know, 
before I see them, there will be 
crushed ice white glass, 
linen falls, 
the single rose. 

Down the road, 
working man's cafe sells 
bunny chows. 
Take it with you, eat 
it at a plastic table's top, 
wipe your fingers on your jeans, 
spit a little on the floor: 
it's in the bone. 

I back from the 
boy again, 
leaving small mean O 
of small mean mouth. 
Hands burn 
for a stone, a bomb, 
to shiver down the glass. 
Nothing's changed.

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