Nightfall in Soweto – Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

Posted: May 7, 2011 in SOUTH AFRICAN POETRY
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POET’S PROFILE

Mtshali

Mtshali

I had to review this poem by Mtshali because it has come up, along with others, as most-searched and leading to traffic on this blog. I find also that Southern African poets are probably the most read along with Nigerian poets and many enquiries to my blog have brought up same names and demographics. I intend to obey that wind and review more Nigerian and Southern African poetry but also, I will wander into the hinterlands for poems from Sudan, Ethiopia, the Arab African nations, Francophone and Lusophone Africa for what goes through their literary minds as well.

Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali is a South African poet who was born in Vryheid, Natal. After his early education, he left for Johannesburg with a dream to pursue further schooling in the University of Witwatersrand but he fell victim to the endemic workings of the apartheid era in which he was born. He did not gain admission and resigned to live in Soweto, a Bantu suburb of Johannesburg, about which he writes this poem. His dreams took him to an M.A in the United States and lectureship at Pace College, a U.S-funded model College in Soweto.


NIGHTFALL IN SOWETO

Nightfall comes like
a dreaded disease
seeping through the pores
of a healthy body
and ravaging it beyond repair

A murderer’s hand,
lurking in the shadows,
clasping the dagger,
strikes down the helpless victim.

I am the victim.
I am slaughtered
every night in the streets.
I am cornered by the fear
gnawing at my timid heart;
in my helplessness I languish.

Man has ceased to be man
Man has become beast
Man has become prey.

I am the prey;
I am the quarry to be run down
by the marauding beast
let loose by cruel nightfall
from his cage of death.

Where is my refuge?
Where am I safe?
Not in my matchbox house
Where I barricade myself against nightfall.

I tremble at his crunching footsteps,
I quake at his deafening knock at the door.
“Open up!” he barks like a rabid dog
thirsty for my blood.

Nightfall! Nightfall!
You are my mortal enemy.
But why were you ever created?
Why can’t it be daytime?
Daytime forever more?

REVIEW
This poem sees Mtshali going almost emotional in his protest against the treatment of black South Africans under the Soweto night sky.

Soweto is an acronym for South-West Townships and is located in that bearing from Johannesburg. It hosts some of the largest populations of slum-dwellers in the world and is the setting for Mtshali’s poem. In review, nightfall comes like “a dreaded disease” (line 2) that ravages beyond repair. (inf. line 5). Obviously, the poet sees a worry about the fall of night and we are yet to find out why so.

But he does not make us wonder long!! In the next stanza (how good is it to say “strophe” here?), Mtshali uses four lines to graphically describe the cold murder of the helpless victim (line 9). Note that he uses the definite article “the” to describe the victim, indicative of the fact that these deaths are commonplace. Then we begin to see why nightfall calls his wrath.

The poet puts himself in the place of all the murdered, calling himself the victim and the slaughtered (lines 10-11). “Slaughter” gives us a feel of the animalistic way in which human life is treated and brings more attention to the worth of the life of the black man hiding in the Soweto nightfall. He goes on to say (lines 12-15) that as the representative of all the victims, he fears every night in the streets, knowing that his death cannot be far off. “Gnawing” in line 14 paints the picture of something that is slowly being bitten off in small chunks and the comparison is this: for all the many black men- estimated to be more than a million- living in the shacks of Soweto, taking one or two lives a night is a slow, albeit sure way of killing the population off. Mtshali is talking about the apartheid era, certainly, and we can only deduce the murderers to be the law-officers whose duty it was to enforce the tyrannical decrees of the regime during the times.

Lines 16-18 sum up the whole poem. “Man has ceased to be man” shows that either way, the human race has changed. For the good? No. For in the ensuing lines Mtshali likens Man to a beast and then to a prey. This Man has become the hunter and the hunted.

The law-officers never took men in broad daylight and killed them. They came marauding in the night as if unleashed by night itself from its cage of death. This is pathetic. And why night is a conspirator in this heinous crime earns it the accolade “Cruel” in line 22.

It was a hopeless situation then and houses were as impotent to keep one safe as it was to just stand outside in the night and get shot. A desperate “barricade” (line 27) against nightfall was useless even as the offenders march straight to doorsteps and order men out to their death. Hounds and mad dogs “thirsty for my blood” (line 31).

So the curses of Nightfall continue as Mtshali signs out embittered. If the night will bring death to the black oppressed man, then it was a sworn mortal enemy (line 33) and in the conclusion of his rant, our poet wishes that we had “Daytime forever more”.

The irony of the poem is that Nightfall refuses to bring the rest that is deserved and common. A long poem and review too but as I have often said, it is with reading the sacred lines of Africa’s great poets that the history and tomorrow of this great continent can be appreciated.

Comments
  1. Gideon Brobbey -Breman, Kumasi says:

    Great poem. Great review. Oswald Mtshali is one of S. Africa’s strongest voices against racism as it is evident in “Boy on a Swing” and other poems of his.

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Good to see you read and comment on this one, Gideon. And since you mentioned it, I must look for Boy on a Swing too. Stop by always.

      Like

  2. Blaise says:

    You got great points there, that’s why I always love checking out your blog.

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Wow, you always do?? I’m grateful. The good work is done by the great African poets. I’m walking in the paths they have already beaten :)

      Like

  3. I love afrilingual.wordpress.com , bookmarked for future reference

    Like

  4. wow…………i love this poem……….

    Like

  5. hemma says:

    this is a great literary poem i have ever read in my life that made me had emotional feelings for life………………………….

    Like

  6. Mike Ben says:

    I so much love the poem Night Fall In Soweto

    Like

  7. Mike Ben says:

    I so much love the poem Night Fall In Soweto, generally i love poems it will be a pleasure if i will get more of it in my mailbox. Thanks

    Like

  8. Darlinton Emi says:

    What a poem;magnificent in scope,beautiful in concept & real in subject…a daring sojourn to the indelible realities of life in apartheid S/Africa,kudos Mtshali!

    Like

  9. ogunjinmi oluwatobi 'Africa' says:

    i wonder if africans will ever forgive these white monsters..but thank God for poeple like mtshali for his contribution in the strugle nd thank God for history…am happy that am not born in this era coz i would have become a terrorist becoz of my rage of anger aggravate whn ever i read africans experience lines

    Like

  10. Amison says:

    Theres this poem about two neighbours building walls, to seperate their houses and the walls finally ended up killng them. PLEASE, can anyone remember the title of the poem?
    Thanks, Alison

    Like

  11. This is one of the most heart freaking poem i have ever read. It lured me into cathasis. For me Africa hsa suffered alot and needs to be compensated for the ill treatment they have received.

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Why don’t we try to instead work towards a future where Africa will never be cheated again? As it stands now, we are still getting robbed of resources and no amount of compensation will suffice.

      Like

  12. this is one poem I read almost every night when I was in Secondary school

    Like

  13. maimuna usman says:

    A real poem, it tells the story of must blacks that were colonized by the whites, it tells how dehumanizing they were because of color difference. This poem tells a whole story

    Like

  14. Dela says:

    Whenever I read this poem, I get new responses to it. Mtshali says ‘I am the victim/I am slaughtered/every night….’. This can only mean that he resurrected after every night of death, like a type of Christ persecuted, only to die again. And to sum up his anguish, he calls himself….the victim, the slaughtered, the prey and the quarry….He was indeed a voice for black South Africans.
    Again, when he says in the first stanza that nightfall comes seeping through a healthy body, we can only say that daytime is that healthy body. Daytime that he wishes forevermore!!

    Like

  15. Muhammad Na Abacha says:

    i symphasize this poem with our land Nigerian rulers. Who always willing to Massace the masse

    Like

  16. Samuel Damian says:

    The poem is indeed a very thrilling one.though it very dehumanizing for an oppressive disposition from de whites against de blacks in south Africa.the poet has don a very good job by exposing such a dehumanizing act.what a poem!cheers to the creative POET!

    Like

  17. Abiola says:

    Great poem, wonderful review as always!

    Like

  18. Owoyemi Nurudeen Deen says:

    The poem is the best ever. Mind’ stir. Capable of true revolution. I love his style.

    Like

  19. PAUL JOHN says:

    I Love this poem.great work from Oswald.i just chewed the poem now.keep it up sir.

    Like

  20. faith teah says:

    poem

    Like

  21. Tony Sudan Gompwel says:

    Today it is nightfall in our world.

    Like

  22. Abdulwahab kabiru says:

    Sensible nd logicall

    Like

  23. alabi lawrence olushola says:

    great poem. great oswald mtshali
    great work you have done.
    i mean you are logical and perpitual sense
    of reasoning.

    Like

  24. roland ato doughan says:

    what a great poem. i wish African leaders will take lesons from it. thank you so much.

    Like

  25. Each time i want to picture the evils of night, i read this poem. And also, whenever i want to remember the apartheid system and its dreaded disease, i also read this poem. It is a wonderful poem that depicts or portrays the imperialist subjugation, ancestral enslavement, racism,etc. of the blacks or colored people.

    Like

  26. bamidele tijani says:

    its a nice poem.

    Like

  27. I have always loved this poem when I was in secondary school. It’s a great poem and a masterpiece.

    Like

  28. I love this poem because it allow we the younger generation to know things that has happen to generations before us. says:

    The poem is a nice one, kuddos to African poets.

    Like

  29. Lizzy. D says:

    This
    Poem is very insprational
    AND i am happy that i also got a chance to read it before i leave this earth. At least its better to know of the history of our countinent than to die with out the knowledge. I also say a big cudos to
    All poem lovers. And stay blessed

    Like

  30. Zealous white says:

    This is a very good poem, lamenting on the agony of the black during the apathied era. It’s more or less like the sun on this rubble

    Like

  31. Nightfall in soweto is now being imported to Nigeria-What’s more? .Massacre, prey on fellow countryman, betrayal of power repose on our sopposed leaders. Oh darkness ,why not day 4ever.MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON THIS COUNTRY-NIGERIA,AMEN

    Like

  32. nura sabo haruna says:

    I really appreciate these work keep it up.

    Like

  33. salihu Aisha says:

    Thanks for a 1daful wrk done

    Like

  34. ore oluwatosin says:

    i love d poem cos itn brings about sensibility

    Like

  35. Aima says:

    this poem is very graphic
    takes you to the era of apartheid in SA
    and leaves you with an empathetic feeling
    for those who suffered in the hands of the
    colonial masters especially in SA
    i love people like Mandela and Mitshali that refused to
    to take the sufferings quietly…..nice review
    wish i saw this review when i was studying this poem
    in secondary school 11 years ago

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Mtshali represented that generation of protest writers who even though did not fight physically with hands, fought no less with a pen. Your comment is appreciated, Aima.

      Like

  36. Johnson says:

    This poem is very creative, sensetive and educating, thank God i was not in that era i wonder what the outcome would have been. What a bloody act.

    Like

  37. Lucky lehlohonolo says:

    Wow! What a wndrfl poem
    i gve tnx 2 dis1

    Like

  38. Ovwigho victor says:

    Mbuyiseni’s poetic prowess is not only filled with emotional anger but a true prophetic poet who goes a long way to continue to win world wide acclaim, which is remiscence of kokori situation,delta in Nigeria.life is no more save,daytime is weaker let alone night ad our big brothers monk at our cold death before our little Lilly

    Like

  39. Fine Man says:

    Amison, the poem is titled “Mending Wall”

    Like

  40. Johnoosco says:

    I am a Nigerian now living in Johannesburg…When I told my students in a College here in Johannesburg that I read this poem in those days back in Nigeria when I was preparing for my West African Senior School Examination, they nearly couldn’t believe me. I loved the poem, but never known in those days that I will ever step my foot into or near the place called Soweto….This is a legendary piece.

    Like

  41. Emmanuel kabondo says:

    This is poem is good

    Like

  42. German says:

    Nightfall in Soweto is real poem by a great man (Mtshali), the first expression of the poem ” Night comes like a dreaded disease seeping through the pores of healthy body ” represents the present situation in Ebubu Eleme Rivers State to people in the community, where cultist have taken over the community, killing….stealing……raping…..in the night, lurking in shadows, moving from door to door humiliating people, settlers are fleeing for refuge, cos the next victim is not known and it will soon be night. “Night! Night!”

    Like

  43. Eics says:

    Dats superb …..neatly nd accurately done ### nd l luv

    Like

  44. iam very appreciate with your poem night fall in saweto.i joing of yours

    Like

  45. Joshua Allahnanan says:

    When will africa ever be compassated for all d pains suffered? Courtesy of d whites!!

    Like

  46. Joshua Allahnanan says:

    Hmmmm! I am a Nigerian n I read dis peom ryt frm ma country. It was a real nice piece of art! Tnk U Oswald.

    Like

  47. This poem was compulsory in high school if you are taking literature as a subject and it stuck….i never forgot it.#inspirational

    Like

  48. very interested and symphathetic poem

    Like

  49. Elogie O. Innocent says:

    A poem I always like to read again and again. A display of an artistical work of inspiration……

    Like

  50. I am very educated from this book.(nightfall in soweto).

    Like

  51. pray that succeess will not. come any faster than u able to endure it

    Like

  52. Fofee V.H. Sherif says:

    I know that apartheid rude is over today but nightfall like a dread decease stall in some parts of Africa by African Leaders against their own people.

    Like

  53. simon ayiku aklie says:

    the poem i have been searching for o.m.G

    i love this piece set

    Like

  54. damyjam says:

    Reblogged this on djamsite and commented:
    My best poem. I read it first in secondary school.

    Like

  55. ukonta samuel says:

    this is an interestin poem just lyk his boy on a Swing.this time Nightfall in soweto.it is really inspiring.Gud men always present good work.

    Like

  56. Sunday Abolade says:

    Nightfall is an interesting poet at all time. The poem that gave me four award in my senior school days in Nigeria when I recite it in literary and debate. I will always remember the plot and setting which was terrifying and intimidating.. An appreciation to this poem gives a lot of meaning to its wordings.

    Like

  57. Indeed this poem draws ma mind to the song written by Bob Marley when he says it is a disgrace for human race to be engaged in a rat race. Indeed Africa needs to stand up and cogitate better and also get people with great accumen and aptitude in order to move the world forward

    Like

  58. vasiedu says:

    Reblogged this on vasiedu's Blog and commented:
    Such a magnificent poem

    Like

  59. this is cool men poetry is the real arm against all sinisters in the society bravoo Oswald!!

    Like

  60. modipanet says:

    awesome writing! my students just sat for a literature paper today and this poem was there for them to analyse it.

    Like

  61. nworu francis says:

    oh africa,thank God we have survived.

    Like

  62. jameel says:

    i need the figure of speech of this poem ?

    Like

  63. Abdul Mumin says:

    Great man.God bless you

    Like

  64. euphemia says:

    this is d poem that thrilled me in those days in secondary school. we imagined it happening, though real, sending each message in our nerves as though we are the victims, quarries and preys. what a real poem to remember

    Like

  65. lostprose says:

    Reblogged this on lostprose and commented:
    I remember the first time I read this poem…it was in Literature class in High School. The poem resounded with me then and still does now. You can feel the anguish and pain from a malaise the residents of Soweto could not escape from. Thank you Oswald Mtshali for this poem that continues to resonate with us.

    Like

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