Poetry: Black Consciousness

Black Consciousness argued that liberation could not happen while black people saw themselves as ‘non-whites’ – that is, wishing to be white but unable to become white. Rather, black people needed to feel pride in their blackness. Along with BC the political movement, came a great deal of BC cultural expression: music, theatre, stories and poetry. This emphasised black pride and often focused on the racism, oppression and unequal power relations in South Africa.

Mongane Wally Serote

One of the most famous Black Consciousness writers is Mongane Wally Serote. Serote was born in 1944 in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, and went to school in Alexandra, Lesotho, and Soweto. He became involved in the Black Consciousness Movement when finishing high school in Soweto. His presence there linked him to a group known as the ‘township’ or ‘Soweto’ poets. In June 1969 he was arrested by the Apartheid Government under the Terrorism Act and spent nine months in solitary confinement, before being released without charge. His poems often express themes of political activism and black identity, and contain images of revolt and resistance.

City Johannesburg

Poet: Mongane Wally Serote

Questions

metaphors Figures of speech where something represents something else. For example, ‘the moon is a silver ship’. similes Figures of speech in which two unlike things are clearly compared. For example, ‘she is like a rose’. personification The giving of human qualities to non-human things.

  1. What actions and activities does the speaker in the poem associate with Johannesburg?
  2. What are the two places the speaker describes in the poem?
  3. What are the two places like? How are they related – in terms of power, economy, and population?
  4. What difficulties does the speaker face in Johannesburg?
  5. What do you think makes this poem one that fits into the tradition of Black Consciousness? Think about it in relation to the explanation of Black Consciousness and Serote’s poetry.
  6. Identify as many metaphors, similes and instances of personification as you can. What images do these create?

White people are white people

Poet: Mongane Wally Serote

Questions

  1. What does this poem say about race relations?
  2. What is the message of the poem?
  3. How does this poem show Black Consciousness values?

My brothers in the Streets

Poet: Mongane Wally Serote

Questions

  1. What is life like for one of the ‘boys’ in the poem?
  2. The poem describes a great deal of violence and injustice.
    1. What are some of the kinds of violence and injustice described? Who is committing the violence and injustice?
    2. How do you think the Apartheid government would have explained this?
    3. How do you think a member of the Black Consciousness Movement would have explained this?
  3. The poem is mostly speaking to black men. Do you think it challenges Apartheid in any way? If so, how?
  4. “Intersectionality” is the idea that different kinds of oppression or injustice often overlap each other, so that one kind of injustice can affect oppressed people differently based on other kinds of privilege or oppression. For example, those who suffer oppression based on race, class and gender discrimination experience their racial oppression differently to those who experience racism but not gender discrimination. Look for parts of the poem which show intersectionality.

What’s in this Black ‘Shit’

Poet: Mongane Wally Serote

Questions

  1. How has Apartheid and racism affected the life of the domestic worker in the poem?
  2. How has the brutality of Apartheid affected the speaker’s own family? Why do you think his father acts like this?
  3. BC represented a new challenge to authority after a decade of political quiet. Look for evidence of this in the poem.
  4. How are the actions of the character in the poem a challenge to Apartheid? How does this show Black Consciousness thinking?
  5. Having read the poem, what do you think the speaker means by “black ‘shit’”?