Poetry: Detention without Trial, Deaths in Police Custody

The 1960s saw the National Party (NP) strengthen its control, and give the police greater power to silence critics of Apartheid. As described earlier, people could be detained without trial or banned and, for the first time, political detainees were killed while in the hands of the police. More often than not, the police and Minister of Justice declared such deaths to be accidental, or cases of suicide.


Poet: Sipho Sepamla


  1. What is the atmosphere like before the raid? How does this change?
  2. How does the shape of the poem – the length and arrangement of the lines – reflect the change of mood in the poem?
  3. What effect do you think detentions had on resistance to Apartheid?

Two Buckets

Poet: Stanley Mogoba

Today In Prison

Poet: Dennis Brutus

Questions on ‘Two Buckets’ and ‘Today in Prison’

  1. Where has the person just arrived in ‘Two Buckets’? What are conditions like there?
  2. How do the prisoners’ actions challenge the system in ‘Today in Prison’? Think about the meaning of ‘Nkosi Sikelela’.
  3. What do you think “the much that still needs to be done” is?
  4. Compare the different ways that people react to being unjustly imprisoned in the two poems.

Before Interrogation?

(An Epitaph to Ahmed Timol and Others)

Poet: Ronnie Kasrils (writing as ANC Kumalo)

ANC Kumalo This was a pseudonym, or pen name, used by the poet to hide his identity.


  1. What was the official reason given for Timol’s death?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. Look at the imagery used to describe the interactions between Ahmed Timol and the Security Police. What does this say about the power relations that exist between them?

Assurance From the Justice Minister

Poet: Ronnie Kasrils (writing as ANC Kumalo)


  1. Does the speaker think journalists will be able to get a real picture of what prison life is like? Why or why not?
  2. What kind of “untrue stories” do you think the Justice Minister was concerned with?
  3. Do you think his promise to journalists in the poem is genuine? Why or why not?
  4. What dangers do you think someone reporting on a death in detention would have faced? How do you think the accusation of lying could be used to control journalists?