On the 16th June 1976, the Soweto uprising began as students from numerous schools in the town of Soweto protested in the streets. An estimated 20,000 students walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium to make a stand against having to learn through Afrikaans in their place of education under the apartheid regime forty years ago.

In response to apartheid, which was abolished some twenty years after the uprising, many works of literature have been produced. ‘Nothing’s Changed’ is one poem in particular detailing the pain and suffering that non-whites experienced under apartheid. Tatamkhulu Afrika’s autobiographical poem tells a story of loss as communities in South Africa, where he was raised from the age of two, were frequently ripped apart to create new areas for white people only.

The poem’s title is significant in understanding the apartheid regime and its longevity in South Africa. ‘Nothing’s Changed’ could represent the simple fact that everything remained the same. Looking deeper, it represents the strife that people endured under apartheid’s segregation and destruction: people lived in fear, they lived in poverty and they lived in a world where racism was allowed to prevail for generations. The title of Afrika’s poem shows the dominance of white supremacy and entitlement of powerful white people in South Africa and the recurring, heartless trauma they caused.

district 6

Afrika describes ‘District Six’ in ‘Nothing’s Changed’, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town, South Africa. It was an area popular with black families, Afrikaners, Muslims, whites and Indians post Second World War. On 11th February 1966, the government declared the area a white-only zone. Removals began in 1968 and by 1982, over 60,000 people had been relocated twenty-five kilometres away. Afrika uses District Six as a figurehead of apartheid’s destruction which created nothing but division and pain for families and communities. Homes in District Six were bulldozed and years of history destroyed. It remained empty until the early 2000s as nobody had wanted to redevelop the land. It can be said that the poet shows the reader that this was, sadly, a common story in South Africa, using the full stop after ‘District Six’ to emphasise the doom and dread that apartheid’s removals caused.

soweto uprising 1

‘Nothing’s Changed’ also addresses the ‘anger’ felt by Afrika and other victims of apartheid. This ‘anger’ is clearly a part of the reason why the Action Committee of the Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC) organised the protest. The Soweto uprising is now marked by a Youth Day in South Africa to honour their bravery and courage. It goes without saying that the students cannot be blamed for the sheer fury they felt at the government and they were proven to be right when they were met with severe police brutality. Non-government sources have estimated that 700 protesters were killed by the police on that day. 700 young lives mercilessly ended because of a deeply-rooted racist attitude in South Africa which Afrika so effortlessly recounts in ‘Nothing’s Changed’.

Forty years have passed since the day young people in Soweto stood up for what they believed in. In many ways, society has come a long way in terms of acceptance. But in other instances, there is still a belief in division in today’s world, as shown by the sheer lunacy of Donald Trump and his supporters. Afrika’s ‘Nothing’s Changed’ provides readers with an insight into apartheid and the lives that the 20,000 students in Soweto were fighting to change. It is quite clear that the pen is mightier than the sword in ‘Nothing’s Changed’ as a callous regime is exposed for the disgusting organisation that it was. And it is also a ringing truth that you are never too young to make a difference: the Soweto students triggered the resistance against apartheid and for that, they should forever be remembered through works of literature and in the minds of the people.