Poetry: Exile

As the state became more repressive, more and more people chose to leave the country and live in exile. Some were political activists who fled the Security Police or chose to join one of the struggle organisations over the border; others were simply ordinary, politically conscious people who took the opportunity to live somewhere with fewer controls on their freedom and less injustice. The two poems that follow speak to the human cost of this: the exiles surviving in a foreign land far from home, and the families left behind.

For My Brothers (Mandla and Bheki) In Exile

Poet: Ben J Langa

mahogany A very valuable kind of wood, prized for its beauty, durability and colour.


  1. Why do you think the brothers are in exile? What does the speaker mean when he says they will only come back when the country ‘has gained more sense’?
  2. What is the effect of not mentioning political details in the poem? What does the poem focus on instead?
  3. What is the speaker saying by choosing to focus on this?


Imagine that you were being watched by the Security Police and decided to go into exile. You could not even let your parents know until after you were gone. Write a story about how you managed to run away and cross the border without being noticed. How did you tell your parents that you were safe but in another country? How did you feel after you escaped?

A Poem

Poet: Es’kia Mphahlele


  1. Who has left their home in the poem? Why have they done this?
  2. What do you think the speaker means by saying that they “tear the years from out the hands” of the people who have left their home?
  3. Look for places in the poem where the speaker uses the natural world, and animals, to describe enemies. Based on these descriptions, what characteristics do their enemies have? What do you think they refer to in real life?
  4. What effects has exile had on the lives of people who have left? What has happened at home while they have been gone?
  5. Does the speaker think that the struggle will be over soon? How can you tell this from the poem?
  6. Who do you think the ‘Elders’ are that the speaker is asking for advice? What does he want to learn from them?