Nothing’s Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika

The poem, Nothing’s Changed, by Tatmkhulu Afrika, talks about the rampant apartheid system in District Six near Cape Town in South Africa, and explores the racism. The ironic title brings to light how the apartheid has changed nothing but the physical appearance of District Six. Nothing’s Changed expresses poet’s anger toward the racists, especially the whites. It reveals the experience of turning back to South Africa after the system of racial separation, called Apartheid, had been upturned. Under the Apartheid system, the majority of black population was treated like the slaves. Due to this system, they were compelled to study in their separate schools, travel in their separate transports, and reside in only the separate parts of cities and towns. The blacks were even not allowed to vote, meaning their voting rights were also upheld by the whites due to this racial system. Though the number of white people was very small, they still exploited and ruled the poverty of the blacks by force of their brutal police force.

In the poem Nothing’s Changed, Tatamkhulu Afrika, on his return, imagines and hopes for a more just and less racially-divided country, but, to his surprise, no such change is seen anywhere. The situations have become even worse on the way of brutality, exploitation and discrimination has changed. And this poem reveals the very fact, and the poet’s bitter disappointment toward the prevalent racism. The attitude of Nothing’s Changed is revengeful and tragic. It is a protest, and a cry of pain. Rather than the white culture feeling guilt and making some kind of recompense for its years of oppression and murder, the ‘brash’ restaurant still symbolizes confidence, even arrogance, certainly not shame.

There are two analytical interpretations of this poem in this article. To read the second analysis, please scroll to the bottom of the article and click ‘Next’ or page 2.



The poet employs sensual imagery to convey the sense of the surrounding. The opening line is 5 separate monosyllables that we see ‘small, round’, touch ‘hard’, and hear ‘click’. In the second stanza he makes use of repetition and lengthens line to grow his anger, and how it consumes every part of him. The stanza on the ‘whites only inn’ is in the middle of the poem. Nothing’s Changed also contains several full stops, with the last one sounding final, certain, unanswerable: ‘Nothing’s changed.’


Nothing’s Changed Analysis

The poem, Nothing’s Changed, portrays and picturizes the problems rampant in South Africa between the whites and blacks. The very title of the poem shows what the poet wants to convey through this poem. He says, “Nothing has changed ever since he left this place. Even now the discrimination is quite visible to see not only among the whites, but even the things that belong to the whites and the blacks.

Nothing’s Changed shows poet’s anger toward the discriminating and segregating nature of those who even today keep themselves aloof from the colored people (the blacks). This poem also reminds me of the widespread caste system in India, where the lower caste and down-trodden people are discriminated by the upper caste people. Racism and castism are two deeply-rooted sins that have been a stigma on the forehead of humanity for centuries. In the poem, when the poet returns his home land, he finds that nothing has changed, the attitude of whites are even now as it used to be when he was a child. With the perfect use of poetic devices and the restaurants, the poet has been able to picturize the best picture of racism in South Africa.


Stanza 1

The very first stanza of Nothing’s Changed tells the irritation and anger of the poet when he says that the irritating stones that click under the feet of poet themselves create the hard irritating sound (an example of onomatopoeia). He says there is untidiness all around, which is increased more by the spreading weeds all around. In this stanza, the poet is shown walking across the wasteland that he knew since his childhood and the destroyed District 6 fills the poet full of anger and irritation. The words like– stones, seeding grasses, cans, weeds are the images that poet use to make his poem lively and realistic. The poem starts with a very friendly and amiable tone. The opening of the poem with a series of monosyllabic words (as discussed above in the para) is very percussive, and helps in building up the imagery in the opening lines in which the poet sets up the wasteland, i.e. District 6. And with the use of first person, the poet takes us into his own world. In the last line of the first stanza, the poet uses another poetic device such as ‘amiable weeds’ while the use of words like ‘clicks’ and ‘crunch’ are the examples of onomatopoeia.


Stanza 2

In stanza two, the poet brings a change in the poem’s tone using two-word title ‘District Six’. This stark statement at the very beginning of this stanza familiarizes the readers about what the poet is going to talk about in the poem ahead. This stanza also recognizes the place as ‘District Six’ which is recognizable not by a sign ‘board’ but by instinct ‘my feet know and my hands…’ In fact every part of poet’s body seems to recognize it. The repetition of ‘And’ in the 12, 13, 14 and 15 lines shows the growing anger of the poet. Moreover, the frequent of punctuation helps in establishing the sense of growing anger. Note this anger of the poet that he has expressed through the imagery of body parts is against the establishment of the restaurant that has been constructed on the debris of District 6. The construction of restaurant destroying District 6 also shows the supremacy of the whites over the blacks. This stanza finishes with a sense of great anger ‘and the hot, white, inwards turning anger of my eyes’ which depicts that the poet is full of anger due to rooted hatred of the whites toward the blacks.


Stanza 3

In the third stanza, the poet takes his readers to a ‘brash’ restaurant, full of ‘up market, haute cuisine’ with a ‘guard at the gatepost’. This restaurant can be easily recognized as a place for ‘whites only inn’, which means no black is allowed to get in there. This very scene of the restaurants and the warnings written here angers the poet, and he calls it ‘brash’, which is a personification of something almost  lurking or hiding in the grass and weeds ‘it squats’. The height of the anger is increased more when the poet finds a guard at the gatepost of the restaurant, which means that the people sitting inside the restaurant need protection from a guard. This really irritates the poet, and he wants to break the restaurant, “Brash with glass.”


Stanza 4

No sign says it is:

But we know where we belong.

The fourth stanza is brief but it speaks thousands of words through the two lines. This stanza sheds light over the racism inherent in the South Africa, and when the poet sees the construction of restaurant over the debris of District 6, he says though there is no sign, we still know where our place is in society, or where we belong.

The apartheid signs might have gone now that South Africa is a democracy, but the poet knows that as a man of mixed or colored race he would not be welcome in the restaurant; in other words he knows where he belongs… Not in there but in the working men’s café down the road!


Stanza 5

In stanza five, the writer looks through the window, and the key feature of this stanza is color imagery, mostly the white color imagery– all that white ~ the crushed ice, the linen,  the rose, the restaurant. The poet has used all these imageries to put emphasis on the ‘whiteness’ of the restaurant against which ‘black’ would stand out  and help in reinforcing the notion that black people are not welcome.

However, ‘the single rose’ on the table is not white, which symbolizes the red blood of all human beings. The metaphor of a flower decorating table also symbolizes the blood that was shed during the South Africa’s struggle for freedom.


Stanza 6

In the sixth stanza, he describes the contrast between the ‘working man’s café’ down the road and the restaurant on the other side. The poet says that in the man’s café, the blacks themselves have to carry their food with you, the café has plastic tables, and there is no serviettes as people wipe their fingers on their jeans, ‘spit a little on the floor’ and ‘it’s in the bone’. In all, the unpleasant and uncivilized scenario of man’s café totally contrasts with the restaurant, which is ‘posh’ and fully embedded with all sorts of amenities.


Stanza 7

In this final stanza, the poet moves away from the scene, revert to being a ‘boy again’ and there is a sense of smallness about him with ‘a small mean O of small, mean mouth’ as if the whole experience has left him feeling inadequate and small. He wants to throw a stone or ‘a bomb’ at the glass; such is his anger at the whole scene, and this is the anger that still exists in the mind of the poet.


Personal Comments

The poem, Nothing’s Changed by Tatmkhulu, is an attack on the psyche of the castist people and their society. Certainly this is stigma on the human society if this type of racial system even today exists among. No matter what racism the poet experienced during his childhood, now he wished for an atmosphere where no one will be discriminated on the basis of his color and caste. However, the poet gets extremely disappointed when after many years of his return he comes to the same place where he had spent his childhood, and was thrown out of his house due to the prevalent apartheid system. He says, “Nothing has changed ever since he left this place. Even now the discrimination is quite visible to see not only among the whites, but even the things that belong to the whites and the blacks.

To read the second analysis, please click ‘Next’ or page 2.

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