Shantytown Poem (Nameless)


(Stanza 1)

Superior on the veld upon that plain

And much from streets and lights and vehicles

And bare of trees, and bare of grass,

Jabavu sleeps beneath the stars

(Stanza 2)

Jabavu sleeps.

The little ones cough.

Chilly creeps up, the challenging evening chilly,

The earth is tight in its grasp,

The highveld chilly without having delicate rain,

Dry as the sand, rough as a rasp

The frost rimmed night invades the shacks.

By means of dusty floor

As a result of rocky floor

By means of freezing ground, the night time chilly creeps.

In cotton blankets, rags and sacks

Beneath the stars Jabavu sleeps.

(Stanza 3)

A person day Jabavu will awake

To greet a new and shining day

The audio of coughing will turn into

The children’s laughter as they perform

In parks with bouquets the place dust now swirls

In solid-walled houses with heat and mild.

But for tonight Jabavu sleeps.

Jabavu sleeps. The stars are vivid.


The poem was released anonymously. It was later on found out that Hilda Bernstein, who participated in the Communist Celebration 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 regarded as Soweto. Nowadays, shantytowns are identified as casual settlements or squatter camps. South African shantytowns have often housed the poorest of the inadequate. Men and women construct makeshift residences out of corrugated iron and what ever materials they can locate. Jabavu, like most other black townships of the time, had no trees, electric power or roads. It is dry, dusty, and exceptionally chilly in the course of winter. It is very tricky for the people today of Jabavu to guard on their own from ailment and the chilly. In the winter season, the chilly is oppressive. To maintain out the chilly, the people today include on their own with thin blankets, rags, and old sacks. The author hopes that when apartheid finishes, Jabavu (and other townships) will be a superior position to are living.

Nowadays, Jabavu is even now not a wealthy aspect of Soweto, but it has electrical energy and mostly tarred roadways. The vast majority of residences are basic, but they are solidly built with partitions and yards. There are a range of schools that serve the area as well as clusters of retailers and other services. Trees have been planted and there is a inexperienced, open up space named Jabavu Park.

Ahead of leaving Robben Island, Mandela realized that if he did not place the past behind him and forgive, he would by no means be cost-free. So his guarantee of liberty to the individuals was directed at all South Africans – the rainbow country. With flexibility will come obligation. If folks want to giggle and experience safe and sound and have the dignity that comes with currently being free of charge, they ought to do the job really hard to encourage democracy. Liberation is for everyone and so all South Africans require to act responsibly, and respect everyone’s ideal to flexibility and dignity.

Hunting at a democratic South Africa now, the concern to request is: are the the vast majority of oppressed certainly liberated?


It is complicated to say with certainty when this poem was published as we do not know who the poet is. The poem was definitely written all through Apartheid in South Africa, when townships experienced no energy or streets. Many shacks experienced been designed by persons coming to Johannesburg wanting for get the job done.

Sort of poem

This poem has been described as staying no cost verse. It is a social commentary on serious poverty and raises the issues of the children’s wellness and liberty. It talks of how neglected this place is in terms of basic expert services like electricity. It is involved with the lack of eco-friendly, safe areas in which small children can participate in. The poem is satirical, criticizing the apartheid government’s rulers and their apartheid regulations.


The speaker is unnamed (potentially the poet). The speaker works by using the 3rd person narrative. He describes the circumstances in Jabavu and what he sees for the upcoming. He addresses culture as a entire so that everyone can understand the suffering of people in shantytowns and be involved in bringing about favourable change.


The voice is of somebody who understands Jabavu well and has almost certainly lived there. He understands all the challenges and struggling of the folks, in particular in winter season. He has a vision for much greater dwelling problems in the upcoming. His tone is descriptive, despairing (sad and worried) and then hopeful.


The poem is divided into three stanzas. Jabavu is described in just about every stanza. The very first stanza describes Jabavu’s isolation from the town (“considerably from streets and lights and automobiles”). Jabavu has no trees or grass due to the fact it is not secured (“beneath the stars”). The next verse goes into further depth concerning the people’s hardship in excess of the winter season. They are both equally chilly and unwell. The ultimate verse transports us to the hopeful potential of a nicely-produced and cared-for Jabavu. It has progressed into a vacation spot for healthy youngsters to play in wonderful parks. People are living in dignified dwellings with energy. They are all safe and cozy. The speaker delivers a rosy photo of his hopes for the foreseeable future.


Discrimination in South Africa

All through Apartheid, black individuals have been not allowed to personal homes near the cities. Townships were developed exterior of towns and towns for them. They stayed in these parts and labored in the town/town in the course of the day. There have been no fundamental solutions supplied to these locations. The government neglected the folks dwelling in these spots. Most services have been developed in metropolis and town suburbs for the white people only.

Poverty in South Africa

Throughout Apartheid, the wide the vast majority of black individuals close to cities and cities lived under harsh disorders. As far more and more individuals moved to be around the metropolis for operate, the townships stuffed with men and women who experienced no correct housing. Several lived in informal settlements in open up regions. They also crafted shacks in other people’s yards. The dwelling problems in townships ended up really harmful, primarily for small children.

The improvement of the themes

Shantytown is a further term for an casual settlement. The poet describes the harsh dwelling disorders of a shantytown in Soweto, termed Jabavu. He is aware of Jabavu very well and probably lived there himself. The circumstances in Jabavu have been extremely equivalent to a lot of other casual settlements in South Africa at the time. The speaker describes the emptiness of the space. The land is wholly barren: ‘Dry as the sand’ (line 10) and ‘dusty’ (line 12) and ‘rocky’ (line 13). Practically nothing grows there in winter. It is ‘bare of trees, and bare of grass’ (line 3). It is positioned on the highveld, with really cold winters. Young children have become ill mainly because of these circumstances. Persons locate it impossible to secure on their own from the chilly which ‘invades the shacks’ (line 11).

Their thin ‘cotton blankets, rags and sacks’ (line 15) deliver no warmth versus the cold. Men and women are living in poverty and cannot manage thick, warm blankets. Irrespective of what the poet sees and maybe also ordeals – the poverty and awful conditions – he is crammed with hope. He desires of a little something superior. He finishes the poem on a note of optimism when he describes how a lot much better life in Jabavu could be in the long term.


Stanza 1: Jabavu sleeps (dormancy)

Literally, the persons in Jabavu are asleep at night time. The dark night time symbolizes apartheid. The chilly symbolizes the white government’s lack of worry or empathy for the oppressed. For the duration of apartheid, the black men and women did not practical experience liberty and they did not have the exact same legal rights as white individuals. Townships like Jabavu have been much from sources of employment and lacked the infrastructure and providers for sustainable enhancement. They lacked sufficient sanitation, drinking water, and refuse removing expert services. There were no good houses, educational facilities, or clinics. Poverty, sickness, and malnutrition had been rife. At 1st, they recognized their destiny. This was the interval of dormancy, inactivity – slumber.

Stanza 2: By way of dusty floor/By means of rocky ground/By way of freezing floor

Poverty, hardship and suffering is emphasised in the image of the dusty, rocky and freezing ground upon which the folks slumber within their shacks.

Stanza 3: Jabavu will awake (hope)

The anti-apartheid motion at some point led to the release of Nelson Mandela from jail. It is this anti-apartheid movement that we figuratively contact their awakening. They started out to battle versus the regulations of apartheid. Some turned activists battling for democracy. As the first president of the new democratic govt, Nelson Mandela promised the black men and women independence. This would assure them human dignity. In his inauguration speech, Nelson Mandela informed the folks of South Africa that it is their ideal to be free and that is what the new govt would consistently attempt to attain. In his speech, he promised the individuals that they would be totally free from want, starvation, deprivation, ignorance, suppression, and dread. Liberty from want suggests that the individuals of South Africa would no longer live in poverty. The black people today would not live in townships of deficiency like Jabavu – in which there are no roadways, electrical power, clinics, etc. This intended that they would be cost-free to reach or get whatever they required or desired. They would also no more time be deprived of nearly anything. They would be ready to have what ever materials gains that they regarded staying fundamental necessities in modern society. They would also have the independence to be educated. Equality would make certain inclusive good quality education and learning for all. They would be capable to choose their vocation and reach their dreams. Nelson Mandela promised them that they would no for a longer period be suppressed and they would no longer reside in concern. It was critical to Nelson Mandela that absolutely everyone lived in flexibility so that they would have human dignity. This is what we have an understanding of in the to start with line of stanza 3 when the poet writes “A person day Jabavu will awake”.

Stanza 3: laughter

“The sound of coughing will come to be/The kid’s laughter as they play”. The children’s illness will develop into well being. This consists of mental health and fitness – not keeping grudges holding on to the previous does not absolutely free you. It makes you bitter.

Stanza 3: potent-walled houses

Security. The individuals hope to are living a existence without the need of anxiety.

Figurative language


The poet repeats particular phrases or phrases in the poem.

“And bare of trees, and bare of grass” (line 3). Pretty much there is completely absolutely nothing expanding in the area. Figuratively the folks are weak – they have nothing.

The word “cold” is applied 4 instances throughout the poem and emphasizes the severe cold. Making an attempt to hold heat is all that the people can imagine about at night. In strains 12 to 14, the poet repeats ‘through’ and ‘ground’. The cold is so intensive and potent that nothing at all stops it, not even dust or rocks. In traces 14 and 15, the poet emphasises the cold all over again: “the night chilly creeps./In cotton blankets”.

“Jabavu sleeps” is repeated five situations at the starting and close of stanzas. The initial two stanzas explain the township at night all through winter. Folks are desperately hoping to rest but struggle mainly because it is so cold. In fact, Jabavu and its people are not sleeping. It is only in stanza 3 that we realize that the poet is working with the term “sleeps” symbolically. The speaker thinks that Jabavu’s long term will be a fantastic enhancement on its earlier. When that occurs, it will be as if the township will have “woken up” from its extensive sleep of poverty and suffering. These harsh ailments are non permanent, only “for tonight” (line 23). The ultimate line expresses this hope by repeating ‘Jabavu sleeps’, but we now know that the stars over are ‘bright’ symbols of hope.


Conjunctions are repeated.

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


The same words at the get started of a line are repeated.

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

“Jabavu sleeps” at the stop of stanza 1 and “Jabavu sleeps” at the start out of stanza 2.


Non-dwelling issues are presented human characteristics.

Jabavu, the shantytown, is in contrast to a particular person who is asleep and will wake up ‘One day’ (line 17). Jabavu will be able to “greet” absolutely everyone just as individuals say “very good early morning” to each individual other at the start of a “new and shining working day” (line 18). The rest is short term and the poet is certainly certain that Jabavu will be able to “awake” to a far better earth in the upcoming.

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


Two items are described as owning a thing in popular. The words ‘like’ or ‘as’ are employed.

Line 10 has two similes:

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

“rough as a rasp” compares the cold to a steel device rubbing from the pores and skin. In other words, the cold of winter season is so severe that it feels agonizing.


The initial consonant appears of words are recurring.

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

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

“The children cough./Cold creeps up”. This really hard audio emphasises the harshness of the conditions in Jabavu.

In line 10, the r seem is repeated: “rough as rasp”.

In stanza 3, the p sound is repeated: “engage in/in parks”.