Poetry: Land Dispossession

The poems collected here speak of land theft at the hands of colonial settlers. They capture, in their content and tone, the trauma of being forced off land that had been people’s homes for generations. They also reveal a deep-lying anger and a desire to overcome colonial oppression.

The Contraction and Enclosure of the Land

Poet: St J. Page Yako
(Translated from isiXhosa by Robert Kavanagh and Z.S. Qangule)

hedged in Made smaller, shrunk down; surrounded on all sides.


  1. What is the tone tone The mood or feeling. of this poem?
  2. The speaker in the poem uses powerful images and comparisons to show land dispossession.
    1. Look for as many different ways land dispossession is described as you can find. What do they contribute to the meaning of the poem?
    2. Which image do you think is the most powerful? Why?
  3. What does the poem say about how land ownership and a money economy affect the way people live and relate to each other?

Africa: My Native Land

Poet: Adelaide Charles Dube

thou An old English version of ‘you’.


  1. How does the speaker in the poem feel about South Africa? Look for specific images and descriptions of the land to justify your answer.
  2. Why is the land special to the speaker as an African? What emotions does land dispossession or theft stir up in her?
  3. This poem was written in 1913.
    1. What significant law was passed in 1913 and what did it say?
    2. Do you think this poem is a response to that law? How can you tell if it is?
  4. How does the speaker react to land dispossession and colonialism? Look for specific images and descriptions to justify your answer.

They’re Stealing our Cattle on misty plains!

Poet: Nontsizi Mgqwetho
(translated from isiXhosa into English by Jeff Opland)

Well A hole drilled into the earth to get water, petroleum or natural gas; a spring or natural source of water. maternal Motherly. peril Danger or risk.

restrain Hold back. astray Out of the right way; off the correct or known road, path or route.

persecution Oppression or bad treatment, because of religious or political beliefs, ethnic or racial origin, gender, or sexuality. confounding Confusing, disturbing or suprising.

bounty Treasure, wealth or a generous gift. tribulation Trouble, hardship or suffering.


  1. What do you think this poem is about? Make use of specific lines from the poem to justify your answer.
  2. The speaker in the poem repeats the line, “They’re stealing our cattle on misty plains!”
    1. What is the effect of repeating this line? How does the speaker feel about this situation?
    2. What else do you think ‘cattle’ could refer to, in a more a figurative sense, over and above livestock?
    3. Why do you think the speaker chooses to describe the plains as ‘misty’?
    1. According to the speaker in the poem, what effect did Christianity have on people who were colonised? Your answer need not be clear-cut. Look to the last three stanzas (sections) of the poem in thinking about your answer.
    2. Religion has been used, throughout human history, as a language to challenge injustice. How is it possible for it to be used as a tool for freedom and as a force of oppression?