Tatamkhulu Afrika was brought up in Cape Town, as a white Afrikaaner, before learning that he had in fact been born in Egypt in 1920, the child of an Arab father and a Turkish mother. When the South African government began to classify every citizen by colour, he refused to be classed as ‘white’, and chose instead to be classified as ‘coloured’. He became a Muslim, and lived in Cape Town’s District 6, then a thriving mixed-race inner-city community. In the 1960s, as part of its policy of apartheid, the government declared District 6 a ‘whites only’ area, and began to evacuate the population. Over a period of years the entire area was razed to the ground. Most of it has never been rebuilt.
‘I think of identity as a sort of cloak which surrounds you, like environment. I’ve been brought up among South African people, particularly black people, who I love most of all. I think identity comes from experience.’
In 1984 the poet joined the ANC. He was arrested for ‘terrorism’, and banned from writing or speaking in public for five years. This was the point at which he adopted the name Tatamkhulu Afrika — previously his ANC code name – which thus enabled him to ignore the ban.
In 2000 Tatamkhulu was awarded the Sankm Literary Award for Mad Old Man Under the Morning Star, his last book of poems. He died in Cape Town in 2002. ‘Nothing’s Changed’ comes from his third book, Maqabane (“Comrade’), published in 1994.
‘The poem ‘Nothing’s Changed’ is entirely autobiographical. It was after District Six had been dead for a good many years, and I hadn’t been passing through it for a long time. But nothing has changed. Not only in District Six… I don’t want to sound like a prophet of doom, because I don’t feel like that at all. I am full of hope. But it’s going to take a long time.’