2. Tatamkhulu Afrika: December 7, 1920 - December 23, 2002 (Page 1)
The writer and poet -- now known as the Grandfather of Afrika -- was truly African and
symbolised the pan-African ideal of a free Africa from top (Cairo) to bottom (Cape): he
was born in Egypt and died in South Africa.
His story itself is an indictment of racism and exploitation and also a story of one
man's quest for his and our humanity. The names he took at different times tell his
story: Mogamed Fu'ad Nasif (born of Arab and Turkish parentage); adopted as John
Charlton by English Methodist family; Jozua Joubert (adopted by Afrikaans family in
Namibia); Ismail Joubert (reversion to Islam); and Tatamkulu Afrika (freedom fighter
Tatamkhulu Afrika -- a name given to him by ANC underground cadres -- was born in
1920 in Egypt to an Arab father and a Turkish mother. His parents died shortly after
coming to South Africa in 1923 and he was raised by an English Methodist family
under a new name John Charlton. (He did not know his family background) At 17,
while still in matric, he wrote his first novel, Broken Earth, published by Hutchinsons in
In his life, our poet of the month had to face many obstacles that forced him to make a
stand, resulting in him changing his "race" and even his religion.
After working in Namibia for at least 20 years doing different jobs, and living with
Afrikaner foster parents where he got the name Jozua Joubert, he settled in District
Six in Cape Town where he reverted to Islam and had himself classified as "coloured"
as he did not want to be white, and wanted to continue living in his township. His
changed his name to Ismail Joubert. In District Six he founded Al-Jihaad to oppose
the apartheid removals and worked closely with MK who gave him the praise name
3. Tatamkhulu Afrika's comments on the poem: "Nothing's Changed
is entirely autobiographical. I can't quite remember when I wrote
this but I think it must have been about 1990. District Six was a
complete waste by then, and I hadn't been passing through it for a
long time. But nothing has changed. Not only District Six ... I
mean we may have a new constitution, we may have on the face
of it a beautiful democracy, but the racism in this country is
absolutely redolent. We try to pretend to the world that it does not
exist, but it most certainly does, all day long, every day, shocking
and saddening and terrible.
"Look, I don't want to sound like a prophet of doom, because I
don't feel like that at all. I am full of hope. But I won't see it in my
lifetime. It's going to take a long time. I mean in America it's taken
all this time and it's still not gone ... So it will change. But not
quickly, not quickly at all."
• In 1948 the election to power of the nationalist party saw, for the first
time in South Africa, the formal introduction of a system called apartheid
or separate development. It was voted in by the whites who made up
perhaps 15% of the country's population. Amongst its most savage and
far-reaching actions was to pass, in 1950, the Group Areas Act. This
defined where people of each "race" could live. Those Africans with
rights to live in urban areas were mostly male, as they were needed to
work in the urban centres. To move into or within a city required a pass
book, to be carried with them at all times.
• Those without passes were sent to the "homelands", areas comprising
13% of the land area but to accommodate 75% of the population. Not
only was the land area insufficient but also it was of the poorest quality,
with unproductive soil and no infrastructure. People were displaced by
force and their land taken. Houses were razed to the ground and
possessions seized. The populations of the homelands grew rapidly,
and although these areas were officially rural it is claimed that their
population densities were closer to those of urban areas. Over 450,000
Africans from the white areas were resettled in the homelands up to the
end of 1968.
6. Now read the poem
• We need to work through the poem now
answering the following questions:
– What happens? What is it that the narrative
– What are his feelings?
• Now write the story of the poem – using
one sentence per stanza. Be prepared
to read these aloud!
8. Language in ‘Nothing’s Changed’
• On the next page there is a chart of
• You must work in pairs.
• Discuss each quote with your partner
and identify what the significant aspects
of language are.
• How do these relate to the cultural/
social situation in South Africa?
9. Quotation Significant features
How it relates to the
cultural/ social situation
in South Africa
‘. . . Cans/ trodden on, crunch/
in tall, purple-flowering,/
The cans suggest it is littered.
The weeds show that it is
unkempt. The phrase ‘amiable
weeds’ draws the reader’s
attention to it because of the
unusual combination of
friendly & weeds
District Six has not been fully
redeveloped. It appears
neglected. The blacks were
forced to move out and the
land is now derelict.
‘the hot, white, inwards
turning/ anger of my eyes’
‘new, up-market, haute
cuisine/ guard at the
gatepost,/ whites only inn.’
‘crushed ice white glass,/
linen falls,/ the sungle rose.’
‘spit a little on the floor:/ it’s in
‘leaving small mean O/ of
small, mean mouth.’
10. Important points to note – add what you missed!
1. Tactile imagery
3. Harsh sounds
5. Sharp images
1. Small hard round stones
2. ‘and’ lines 12 to 15
3. Brash/ glass
4. Flaring flag –
5. ‘the single rose’
6. Whites only inn/
Working man’s café
11. Conclusion & Homework
• Tatamkhulu Afrika said that he liked this
poem best out of all the poems he wrote
about his old home in District Six.
• Without knowing these other poems,
why do you think he might have liked
this one particularly? Write a paragraph