Shantytown Poem (Nameless)


(Stanza 1)

Substantial on the veld on that plain

And far from streets and lights and autos

And bare of trees, and bare of grass,

Jabavu sleeps beneath the stars

(Stanza 2)

Jabavu sleeps.

The small children cough.

Chilly creeps up, the challenging night cold,

The earth is restricted within just its grasp,

The highveld cold with out delicate rain,

Dry as the sand, rough as a rasp

The frost rimmed night invades the shacks.

By way of dusty ground

By rocky ground

By freezing floor, the night chilly creeps.

In cotton blankets, rags and sacks

Beneath the stars Jabavu sleeps.

(Stanza 3)

One day Jabavu will awake

To greet a new and shining working day

The audio of coughing will turn out to be

The children’s laughter as they participate in

In parks with flowers exactly where dust now swirls

In potent-walled residences with warmth and gentle.

But for tonight Jabavu sleeps.

Jabavu sleeps. The stars are vivid.

Track record

The poem was posted anonymously. It was later on discovered that Hilda Bernstein, who participated in the Communist Occasion and was an anti-apartheid activist, wrote this poem.

The poem is set in Jabavu township in Johannesburg. Jabavu was a shantytown to the south of Johannesburg in the bigger region known as Soweto. Now, shantytowns are identified as casual settlements or squatter camps. South African shantytowns have always housed the poorest of the poor. Folks build makeshift households out of corrugated iron and no matter what materials they can discover. Jabavu, like most other black townships of the time, had no trees, electrical power or roadways. It is dry, dusty, and extremely chilly through winter. It is quite hard for the folks of Jabavu to secure by themselves from disease and the chilly. In the winter, the chilly is oppressive. To keep out the cold, the people protect them selves with slender blankets, rags, and aged sacks. The creator hopes that when apartheid finishes, Jabavu (and other townships) will be a better place to stay.

Now, Jabavu is however not a wealthy part of Soweto, but it has electricity and predominantly tarred roads. The the vast majority of residences are basic, but they are solidly built with walls and yards. There are a variety of faculties that serve the place as very well as clusters of outlets and other providers. Trees have been planted and there is a environmentally friendly, open place called Jabavu Park.

Just before leaving Robben Island, Mandela realized that if he did not place the previous behind him and forgive, he would never ever be free. So his assure of independence to the individuals was directed at all South Africans – the rainbow country. With independence arrives obligation. If persons want to chuckle and truly feel harmless and have the dignity that arrives with getting no cost, they should do the job tricky to encourage democracy. Liberation is for all people and so all South Africans need to act responsibly, and regard everyone’s right to flexibility and dignity.

Searching at a democratic South Africa currently, the problem to check with is: are the vast majority of oppressed certainly liberated?


It is difficult to say with certainty when this poem was penned as we do not know who the poet is. The poem was surely prepared for the duration of Apartheid in South Africa, when townships experienced no energy or streets. Many shacks had been created by men and women coming to Johannesburg searching for do the job.

Style of poem

This poem has been described as becoming no cost verse. It is a social commentary on severe poverty and raises the troubles of the kid’s health and fitness and freedom. It talks of how neglected this location is in conditions of basic products and services like electric power. It is worried with the lack of environmentally friendly, secure areas in which youngsters can enjoy. The poem is satirical, criticizing the apartheid government’s rulers and their apartheid guidelines.


The speaker is unnamed (probably the poet). The speaker makes use of the 3rd man or woman narrative. He describes the situations in Jabavu and what he sees for the long term. He addresses society as a whole so that anyone can recognize the struggling of persons in shantytowns and be concerned in bringing about favourable improve.


The voice is of a person who is familiar with Jabavu perfectly and has in all probability lived there. He understands all the issues and struggling of the persons, specially in winter. He has a vision for substantially greater living disorders in the upcoming. His tone is descriptive, despairing (sad and worried) and then hopeful.


The poem is divided into a few stanzas. Jabavu is explained in each and every stanza. The to start with stanza describes Jabavu’s isolation from the metropolis (“far from streets and lights and autos”). Jabavu has no trees or grass since it is not safeguarded (“beneath the stars”). The second verse goes into additional depth concerning the people’s hardship about the winter season. They are equally chilly and unwell. The last verse transports us to the hopeful long run of a perfectly-designed and cared-for Jabavu. It has developed into a location for nutritious youngsters to participate in in wonderful parks. People reside in dignified dwellings with electricity. They are all risk-free and comfy. The speaker offers a rosy photo of his hopes for the long run.


Discrimination in South Africa

All through Apartheid, black individuals were being not allowed to own homes in the vicinity of the metropolitan areas. Townships were being built outside of towns and metropolitan areas for them. They stayed in these spots and labored in the metropolis/town during the day. There had been no basic companies supplied to these spots. The govt neglected the people today dwelling in these regions. Most expert services have been produced in metropolis and city suburbs for the white persons only.

Poverty in South Africa

For the duration of Apartheid, the broad the greater part of black folks around cities and metropolitan areas lived less than severe ailments. As far more and additional men and women moved to be close to the town for function, the townships crammed with men and women who experienced no good housing. A lot of lived in informal settlements in open up areas. They also developed shacks in other people’s yards. The dwelling circumstances in townships had been really unhealthy, in particular for young children.

The growth of the themes

Shantytown is another phrase for an casual settlement. The poet describes the harsh dwelling conditions of a shantytown in Soweto, named Jabavu. He understands Jabavu nicely and possibly lived there himself. The ailments in Jabavu were pretty comparable to numerous other informal settlements in South Africa at the time. The speaker describes the emptiness of the area. The land is fully barren: ‘Dry as the sand’ (line 10) and ‘dusty’ (line 12) and ‘rocky’ (line 13). Practically nothing grows there in wintertime. It is ‘bare of trees, and bare of grass’ (line 3). It is found on the highveld, with very chilly winters. Children have become unwell due to the fact of these situations. People locate it extremely hard to protect themselves from the chilly which ‘invades the shacks’ (line 11).

Their thin ‘cotton blankets, rags and sacks’ (line 15) present no warmth against the chilly. Persons are residing in poverty and are not able to find the money for thick, heat blankets. Inspite of what the poet sees and quite possibly also experiences – the poverty and dreadful problems – he is filled with hope. He goals of a thing much better. He ends the poem on a take note of optimism when he describes how a lot greater existence in Jabavu could be in the long run.


Stanza 1: Jabavu sleeps (dormancy)

Practically, the people today in Jabavu are asleep at night. The dim night symbolizes apartheid. The cold symbolizes the white government’s lack of issue or empathy for the oppressed. Through apartheid, the black folks did not expertise freedom and they did not have the very same rights as white men and women. Townships like Jabavu had been much from sources of work and lacked the infrastructure and expert services for sustainable advancement. They lacked sufficient sanitation, h2o, and refuse removal expert services. There were being no first rate properties, schools, or clinics. Poverty, disease, and malnutrition have been rife. At very first, they accepted their fate. This was the interval of dormancy, inactivity – rest.

Stanza 2: As a result of dusty ground/By means of rocky ground/By freezing floor

Poverty, hardship and suffering is emphasised in the graphic of the dusty, rocky and freezing ground upon which the people slumber inside their shacks.

Stanza 3: Jabavu will awake (hope)

The anti-apartheid movement at some point led to the launch of Nelson Mandela from jail. It is this anti-apartheid motion that we figuratively contact their awakening. They began to fight towards the guidelines of apartheid. Some grew to become activists combating for democracy. As the first president of the new democratic governing administration, Nelson Mandela promised the black men and women freedom. This would guarantee them human dignity. In his inauguration speech, Nelson Mandela informed the individuals of South Africa that it is their suitable to be no cost and that is what the new govt would constantly attempt to accomplish. In his speech, he promised the individuals that they would be totally free from want, starvation, deprivation, ignorance, suppression, and anxiety. Flexibility from want means that the persons of South Africa would no longer dwell in poverty. The black people would not reside in townships of deficiency like Jabavu – where there are no streets, electric power, clinics, etc. This meant that they would be no cost to realize or attain what ever they necessary or wanted. They would also no for a longer period be deprived of anything at all. They would be in a position to have regardless of what materials rewards that they regarded as currently being primary necessities in culture. They would also have the freedom to be educated. Equality would assure inclusive excellent education for all. They would be in a position to decide on their profession and reach their desires. Nelson Mandela promised them that they would no more time be suppressed and they would no longer live in concern. It was crucial to Nelson Mandela that everyone lived in liberty so that they would have human dignity. This is what we understand in the initial line of stanza 3 when the poet writes “One day Jabavu will awake”.

Stanza 3: laughter

“The audio of coughing will come to be/The kid’s laughter as they enjoy”. The kid’s ailment will become wellness. This includes psychological wellbeing – not keeping grudges keeping on to the past does not free of charge you. It can make you bitter.

Stanza 3: potent-walled homes

Security. The people today hope to dwell a daily life with no fear.

Figurative language


The poet repeats certain text or phrases in the poem.

“And bare of trees, and bare of grass” (line 3). Actually there is unquestionably practically nothing expanding in the place. Figuratively the persons are bad – they have very little.

The phrase “chilly” is used 4 times throughout the poem and emphasizes the excessive chilly. Seeking to continue to keep warm is all that the men and women can imagine about at night time. In traces 12 to 14, the poet repeats ‘through’ and ‘ground’. The chilly is so rigorous and highly effective that very little stops it, not even dust or rocks. In traces 14 and 15, the poet emphasises the chilly once more: “the evening chilly creeps./In cotton blankets”.

“Jabavu sleeps” is recurring five moments at the starting and end of stanzas. The initial two stanzas describe the township at night throughout winter. People are desperately attempting to snooze but battle due to the fact it is so chilly. In fact, Jabavu and its men and women are not sleeping. It is only in stanza a few that we comprehend that the poet is employing the word “sleeps” symbolically. The speaker believes that Jabavu’s upcoming will be a terrific improvement on its earlier. When that comes about, it will be as if the township will have “woken up” from its extended snooze of poverty and struggling. These harsh disorders are momentary, 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 repeated.

“And much from streets and lights and vehicles/And bare of trees, and bare of grass”.


The same words at the start off of a line are repeated.

“And much from streets and lights and vehicles/And bare of trees, and bare of grass”.

“Jabavu sleeps” at the finish of stanza 1 and “Jabavu sleeps” at the commence of stanza 2.


Non-residing things are specified human characteristics.

Jabavu, the shantytown, is when compared to a person who is asleep and will wake up ‘One day’ (line 17). Jabavu will be able to “greet” all people just as men and women say “superior morning” to every single other at the get started of a “new and shining working day” (line 18). The snooze is non permanent and the poet is certainly positive that Jabavu will be in a position to “awake” to a superior world in the potential.

The wintertime cold is also personified by the poet. It is described as unstoppable due to the fact it “creeps” or crawls into every little thing. It is like an enemy that attacks and “invades” (line 11) a city and its residences.


Two points are explained as acquiring anything in widespread. The phrases ‘like’ or ‘as’ are employed.

Line 10 has two similes:

“Dry as the sand” compares the severe dryness of the chilly winter season to sand since there is no rain.

“rough as a rasp” compares the cold to a metal tool rubbing from the skin. In other words, the chilly of wintertime is so critical that it feels distressing.


The original consonant seems of terms are repeated.

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

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

“The little ones cough./Cold creeps up”. This tricky sound emphasises the harshness of the circumstances in Jabavu.

In line 10, the r sound is recurring: “rough as rasp”.

In stanza 3, the p audio is recurring: “play/in parks”.