Poetry: Passes and Petty Apartheid

The poems gathered here stage for us the ways in which racist Apartheid laws severely limited the freedom and opportunity of black people during the years of Apartheid. Not only do the poems show what it felt like to be stripped of dignity and humanity as individuals, they also reveal how these laws ripped families and loved ones apart. They are historical artefacts of great value as they communicate the lived experience of oppression under Apartheid.

The Pass Office

Poet: Solomon Linda


  1. Who do you think is asking the questions in the poem?
  2. What is the effect of having one question after each other, without answers?
  3. Explain the meaning of the last line. Is it spoken by the same voice that asks the questions?

Taken for a Ride

Poet: Stanley Motjuwadi


  1. How does the man know what the policeman wants?
  2. How does the man react to having to show his pass to the policeman? What effect does the pass inspection have on him? Make reference to the metaphor of the “crazed tribal dancer” in coming up with your answer.
  3. What do you think the speaker means when he says “without it I’m lost, with it I’m lost”?
  4. Who is giving the speaker a “free ride”? Why is calling it a ‘free ride’ ironic?

Pigeons at the Oppenheimer Park

Poet: Oswald Mtshali

prosecuted Made to stand trial; punished. trespassing Being on someone else’s land without permission. insolent Rude.


  1. What laws are the pigeons breaking?
  2. Is the speaker really angry with the pigeons?
  3. What point do you think the poem is making?

To Whom It May Concern

Poet: Sipho Sepamla


  1. “Bearer” means the person who carries something. Who is the bearer here, and what physical thing is he carrying?
  2. What are some of the ways in which this man’s life is shaped and limited by what he carries, and the laws around it?
  3. What do you think the speaker means by saying the law has been “amended often/ to update it to his sophistication”?
  4. A lot of the language in the poem is technical (legal, bureaucratic, official), not emotive (feeling, expressing emotions). What does this make the poem sound like to you? What do you think the poet is trying to show by doing this?
  5. List the different ways the poem has of speaking about the man. What do we know about who he is? Do we know his name? What has happened to his identity?
  6. What does the poem tell us about the way Apartheid divided oppressed people?

But O…

Poet: Adam Small


  1. Who is the character in the poem speaking to?
  2. Which places mentioned in the poem have been segregated? Try to think of the laws which would stop the speaker in the poem from doing the things listed in the poem.
  3. Discuss the ending of the poem. How does it challenge Apartheid and Apartheid’s values – is the character in the poem breaking a law? How else was it possible to undermine Apartheid?