Themes in Oswald Mtshali’s “Nightfall in Soweto”

"Nightfall in Soweto" is a poem that depicts the horrors and fear experienced by the inhabitants of Soweto during apartheid in South Africa.


Nightfall in Soweto” by Oswald Mtshali is a poem that depicts the horrors and fear experienced by the inhabitants of Soweto during apartheid in South Africa. The poem highlights the crimes committed under the cover of darkness, such as rape, torture, arson, and murder, which were associated with apartheid. Soweto symbolizes the brutal oppression of apartheid and represents the mindless brutality and repression faced by black South Africans.

The themes present in “Nightfall in Soweto” include apartheid and oppression, fear and anguish, injustice and brutality, identity and victimhood, despair and frustration, humanity and dehumanization, and resistance and resilience.

These themes collectively shed light on the harsh realities of apartheid South Africa and the lived experiences of those subjected to its oppressive regime.


Apartheid and Oppression: The poem explores the theme of apartheid, focusing on the oppressive system of racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa. It highlights the brutal consequences of apartheid, including violence, fear, and suffering endured by the black population, particularly in Soweto.

Fear and Anguish: The poem delves into the profound fear and anguish experienced by the inhabitants of Soweto due to the crimes committed under the cover of darkness. Nightfall becomes a constant source of terror, symbolising the vulnerability and precariousness of their lives.

Injustice and Brutality: The poem exposes the injustice and brutality of apartheid South Africa. It vividly depicts the crimes associated with apartheid, such as rape, torture, arson, and murder, which are predominantly perpetrated during the night. These acts of violence reflect the dehumanizing nature of apartheid.

Identity and Victimhood: The poet explores personal identity and victimhood, aligning himself with the victims of apartheid and expressing a sense of shared suffering. The recurring use of “I am” emphasizes the collective experience of the inhabitants of Soweto, who endure the same hardships and persecution.

Despair and Frustration: The poem conveys a sense of despair and frustration caused by the ongoing oppression and violence. The poet’s anger and frustration are directed at nightfall itself, representing the forces that perpetuate the suffering and injustices endured by the black population.

Humanity and Dehumanization: The poem reflects on the dehumanizing effects of apartheid, portraying the fall in human dignity. Through metaphors and imagery, it depicts man as a beast, prey, and quarry, emphasizing the loss of humanity caused by the oppressive system.

Resistance and Resilience: The poem also suggests the theme of resistance and resilience. The mere act of expressing the fear and anguish faced by the inhabitants of Soweto can be seen as an act of resistance against the oppressive regime. The poet’s determination to confront nightfall and address it directly reflects a spirit of resilience and defiance.

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Image CreditGregory Fullard on Unsplash.

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