Poems-in the Shadow of Signal Hill

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  • Topic: South Africa, Cape Town, Coloured
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  • Published : September 13, 2013
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In the Shadow of Signal Hill

Signal Hill is a strikingly shaped hill or small peak overlooking the harbour of Cape Town. It has been used as a lookout post since the early days of the Cape colony. From it, the viewer can see Robben Island, the bare scar where the suburb of District Si stood before its occupants were evicted and its buildings demolished and Langa, a black township on the outskirts of suburban Cape Town.

The overall significance of the title of the poem is that “Signal Hill” represents the higher, white authority or white government of the Apartheid era. The fact that it is a hill implies how the white government saw themselves as the superior party, the party that was raised above the nation they control. The part “in the shadow” of Signal Hill represents the black people who suffered under the Apartheid regime. They were the people who had to live in the shadows of the white government. The government overshadowed their whole lives and basically made their choices for them.

The word “shadow” also bears a connotation of fear in general. When one looks at children’s books, one will notice that the antagonist in the stories would be a “shadowy figure”. Therefore the “Shadow of Signal Hill” suggests the white government is the antagonist in terms of them being wrong in what they are doing – which is initiating Apartheid in South Africa.

1. in the howling wind

2. by the murky waters

3. of the sea
a cold, unpleasant atmosphere is created.
Metaphor: howling wind might refer to the cries of the black people, their pleads for freedom and equality.

4. children of colour – refers to coloureds, Asians, black people and all others who suffered under the Apartheid regime.

5. gather shells

6. and hold them to their ears

7. and listen to the lamentations of slaves – cries/ weeping of the slaves. “lamentations” connects with “howling wind” which emphasises the suffering of the black and coloured people.

8. in the dungeon of death
since the children listen to the cries of the slaves in the dungeon of death while holding shells to their ears, it is possible that the shells can be a metaphor for the dungeon of death, which, in turn, is a metaphor for the situation the slaves or coloured and black people are in. This symbolises the helplessness of black people.

9. in the howling wind

10. by the murky waters

11. of the sea
repetition of the first three lines adds emphasis to them.

12. sons of langa – Langa was a black township on the outskirts of suburban Cape Town. Langa not only represents the houses of the township, it also refers to the people who lived in Langa, therefore Langa is a community. “sons of langa” – the generation of the townships. This implies that the future generations will also be affected by Apartheid, whether it has ended or not.

13. gather at the ruins of district six

14. and sharpen the spears of the night

15. and the heroes from the island urge
This possibly represents someone like Nelson Mandela, the infamous freedom-fighter.

16. go towards the fiery dawn . . .
fiery: to be angry: the speaker suggests that the coloured or black people are angry, as it is expected since they have been treated like slaves by the white government for most of their lives. ”fiery dawn” also suggest that an “angry break of day”, meaning that the coloured people wake up angry in the mornings. They are angry and frustrated with their circumstances.

dawn: -the beginning of a phenomenon or period of time. -the break of day.
Here it is suggested that the “fiery dawn” is indeed a new period of time which will commence. (The time of post-Apartheid.) The coloured people are angry and will take this anger and fight for their freedom.

. . .: the ellipse is used effectively instead of a full stop. A full stop would end the poem. But the...
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