The Child Who was Shot Dead by Soldiers at Nyanga: Poem Analysis and Notes PDF

The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga Poem

The child is not dead
the child raises his fists against his mother
who screams Africa screams the smell
of freedom and heather
in the locations of the heart under siege

The child raises his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who scream Africa scream the smell
of justice and blood
in the streets of his armed pride

The child is not dead
neither at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station in Philippi
where he lies with a bullet in his head

The child is the shadow of the soldiers
on guard with guns saracens and batons
the child is present at all meetings and legislations
the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere 
the child who became a man treks through all of Africa
the child who became a giant travels through the whole world

About Ingrid Jonker

Ingrid Jonker, a South African poet of Afrikaans descent, was born in 1933 and tragically passed away in 1965. Her life was marked by immense trauma both during her formative years and into adulthood. These personal struggles, coupled with her keen awareness of societal and familial injustices, were poignant themes frequently portrayed in her poetic works.

Jonker was a key figure within “Die Sestigers“, a collective of anti-establishment poets and writers in South Africa. During the 1950s and 60s, this group actively defied the conservative literary standards of the time and resisted censorship.

Following her death, Jonker was honored with the Order of Ikhamanga. This award commemorated her significant contributions to literature as well as her unwavering commitment to the pursuit of human rights.

The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers at Nyanga: Poem Analysis and Notes PDF

Historical Context:

Wrote protest poem in Afrikaans, in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre. (The Sharpeville massacre occurred on 21 March 1960 at the police station in the township of Sharpeville in the then Transvaal Province of the then Union of South Africa (today part of Gauteng). After demonstrating against pass laws, a crowd of about 7000 protesters went to the police station. Sources disagree as to the behaviour of the crowd; some state that the crowd was peaceful, while others state that the crowd had been hurling stones at the police, and that the mood had turned “ugly”. The South African Police opened fire on the crowd when the crowd started advancing toward the fence around the police station, and tear-gas had proved ineffectual. There were 249 victims in total, including 29 children, with 69 people killed and 180 injured. Some were shot in the back as they fled. It refers to the killing of a young child in Nyanga – see summary.

Writing in Drum magazine about the poem, Jonker said: “I saw the mother as every mother in the world. I saw her as myself. I saw Simone [Jonker’s own child] as the baby. I could not sleep. I thought of what the child might have been had he been allowed to live. I thought what could be reached, what could be gained by death? The child wanted no part in the circumstances in which our country is grasped… He only wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga… [The poem] grew out of my sense of bereavement.”

Jack Cope and William Plomer translated the poem. In Afrikaans it is referred to as “Die Kind” (The Child). Nelson Mandela read an English translation at the opening of the democratic Parliament on 24 May 1994


The poem reflects on the pass laws of Apartheid South Africa. Jonker wrote this poem in reaction to the shooting of a young child in his mother’s arms during a protest against the Pass Laws. This happened in Nyanga township, near Cape Town. The child was killed while on his way to the doctor with his mother – the senselessness of his death is a result of the senselessness of the Apartheid laws. This child remains nameless to represent all innocent lives taken during Apartheid. The poem highlights the idea that violence within a country destroys innocent members of society (women and children) and damages the country and its future. This child’s death has inspired others to take up the cause of freedom and given new energy to the struggle against Apartheid. Jonker yearns for a time when any child can grow and make his/her impact on the world, without restrictions of the Pass Laws.


Although this poem is separated into four sections, it is devoid of a specific rhyme scheme or rhythm. It is, therefore, in free verse. The isolated final line emphasises the poet’s message: freedom is needed! The fourth stanza develops the idea of this child’s wasted life – what he could have become, had he lived. There is a parallel structure in “nor at” repeated in the third stanza. This rhetorical device gives examples of where police brutality occurred. It gives an historical accuracy to the poem.


Line 1: The term “child” is carried over from the title, emphasizing the inherent innocence of youth.

Line 2: The phrase “raises his fist” uncovers the deep-seated anger of the young generation, and serves as a symbol of defiance.

Line 3: The word “screams” is reiterated, underlining the profound anger.

Lines 2 and 7: The words “mothers” and “fathers” highlight the generational divide. Parents advocated for justice using peaceful means, but the youth are inclined to adopt a more violent strategy.

Line 5: The term “locations” refers to the Group Areas Act, indicating racial segregation. “Under siege” implies an ongoing attack.

Line 7: The phrase “march of the generations” conveys that the struggle continues.

Line 8: “Who scream Africa scream the smell” suggests an urgent need for change and profound anger, not just in South Africa, but across the African continent.

Line 9: “Justice and blood” illustrates that in the quest for justice, many lives are lost.

Line 10: The term “armed pride” suggests the youth are prepared to bravely combat oppression.

Line 11: The phrase “The child is not dead” suggests that while the child may be physically gone, his spirit endures. This is reminiscent of the biblical allusion where Jesus resurrects a deceased child.

Lines 12-14: “Langa/ Nyanga //Orlando Sharpeville/ Philippi” are locations linked to violent uprisings.

Line 15: “Bullet in his head” presents shocking imagery.

Lines 16-17: “Guns saracens and batons” depict various tools of violence wielded by the police against the children.

Lines 18-22: Anaphora, a rhetorical device involving repeated phrases at the beginning of clauses, is used here.

Line 18: “Meetings and legislations” pertains to the process of law-making.

Line 19: “Hearts of mothers” refers to the warm, nurturing bond mothers have with their children.

Line 20: “Child who became a man” illustrates that children were forced to shoulder adult responsibilities prematurely, leading to a loss of innocence.

Line 22: “Whole world” implies that global opposition exists against Apartheid.

Line 23: “Without a pass” refers to the Pass Laws of Apartheid. This isolated line emphasizes the urgency and importance of freedom.

Poetic Devices:

  • The repetition of “the child” throughout the poem emphasises the age and innocence of the youth and highlights how many children were killed because of the apartheid laws. This repetition is called an anaphora. The child becomes a symbol of resistance, hope and innocence.
  • The child is a metaphor for the thought of resistance and, ultimately, freedom. In the second last stanza the child is a “giant” to portray the growing sense of freedom, justice and resistance by all those who are oppressed. This “giant” travels the world – anti-Apartheid protests did not only take place in South Africa. The world watched and protested the brutal and unjust system.
  • The poet’s diction conveys the distress of the child and all others in the senseless Apartheid time. Her choice of “screams” and “raises his fists” highlights his anger.
  • The onomatopoeia in “screams” is repeated to emphasise his anger.
  • The alliteration in lines 3 and 8 emphasises the urgency and desperate cries of the oppressed people.
  • Enjambment creates a free flow of thought.
  • There is an allusion to the Bible (Gospel of Mark 38-43: “38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”) There are also allusions to all the places where protests turned violent, and people were injured/killed.
  • The paradox in the third stanza (“the child is not dead … where he lies with a bullet in his head”) highlights the fact that this child died physically, but he is still alive in the hearts of all Africans. He becomes the symbol of innocence, resistance, and hope.

Tone :

  • The tone in the poem is bold, passionate, inspired and determined. Despite the sadness about the innocent child’s death, the tone is not sympathetic or sad. There is a sense of outrage and loss. The speaker remains determined in his/her message and relays it with a clarity of purpose.


  • Freedom – ultimately the speaker dreams of a time when all people will be free. This freedom includes the freedom of speech, movement and in all human rights. Freedom from Apartheid and its brutal laws.
  • Resistance – This child stands up for what he knows it right and he (the symbol) can never die. He is not a physical person, but an idea. There is resistance against the blatant brutality and barbarism against the innocents. His raised fist symbolises the yearning for freedom, identity, and protest.

The child who was shot dead by soldiers in nyanga questions and answers

  • What does the altered repetition of “The child lifts his fists against his mother / father” reveal about the generation gap that is reflected in responding to the laws of apartheid?  (2)
  • How does the diction in stanzas 1 and 2 highlight the difference between mothers and fathers?  (3)
  • Comment on the effect of the denials in the third stanza.(2)
  • Discuss the effectiveness of the last, short line of the poem. (2)
  • During the Parliamentary address, Nelson Mandela commented that “in the midst of despair, Jonker celebrated hope.” Does this poem celebrate hope? Discuss your answer briefly.  (3)
  • “The child” is repeated ten times in the poem. How does this repetition add meaning to the poem? (2)


The child who was shot dead…                                    Ingrid Jonker

  1. Comment on the reference to ‘the child’ in the title of the poem.                          (2)

(It evokes a sympathetic response. A child is vulnerable and helpless against the armed soldiers. It shows the cruelty and senselessness of this death – this child did not live long enough to realise his potential.)

  • The title refers to the ‘dead’ child, yet in line 1 ‘the child is not dead’. Discuss the contradiction/dichotomy by referring to the rest of the poem.                               (3)

(The contradiction/dichotomy leaves the reader pondering: how can the child be both dead and “not dead”? The speaker introduces the idea that the child is a symbol of innocence/hope/resistance. None of the lives lost will be forgotten, as they are ‘everywhere’. They will be remembered in history in the struggle for freedom. The child will always be present to drive the struggle and ultimately reap the rewards of freedom by travelling ‘without a pass’.)

  • What does the altered repetition of “The child lifts his fists against his mother / father” reveal about the generation gap that is reflected in responding to the laws of apartheid?                                                                                                        (2)

(The child is unhappy with the parents’ submissive attitude – they did not fight hard enough. He (as a synecdoche of the youth) will now take up the fight, literally. The child seeks a quick and possibly violent solution to the end of Apartheid as he ‘lifts his fists’; whereas the protests of his parents would have been more peaceful as previous ‘generations who are shouting Afrika’ campaigned against Apartheid in this way. The youth is filled with rage at the Apartheid world they are forced to inhabit, the legacy of previous generations who ‘allowed’ matters to reach this intolerable point. Active and passive resistance) 

  • How does the diction in stanzas 1 and 2 highlight the difference between mothers and fathers?                                                                                                        (3)

(The image of the mother refers to pain and suffering – they “scream” and their screams of anguish are heard far and wide. The image of the father refers to warriors and pride. It refers to “justice and blood” – the call to arms to regain their lost pride.)

  • Comment on the effect of the denials in the third stanza.                                       (2)

(The frequent use of denials and negatives emphasises just how frequently these events occurred during those brutal years in the fight for freedom. The reader understands that there are innocent victims in all these places, and the denials – indicative of officialdom – come across as blatant lies.)

  • Critically comment how the imagery used in lines 20-23 contributes to the mood.            (3)

(The child playing in the sun creates a carefree mood without the violence of ‘bullets’ and ‘rifles’ and ‘batons’. ‘Treks’ and ‘travels’ suggest freedom and no more restrictions and confinements of ‘pass’ laws. The image of a ‘giant’ show that the child is now grown and has embraced his potential. This contributes to a mood of hope, optimism and confidence.)

  • Discuss the effectiveness of the last, short line of the poem.                                (2)

(The concluding image is particularly poignant because it reflects a child who did not want any part of the violence he grew up in but instead wanted to follow innocent pursuits. He wanted the opportunity to become an independent adult with no restrictions on where he could go. The pass book implies restrictions and oppression.)

  • During the Parliamentary address, Nelson Mandela commented that “in the midst of despair, Jonker celebrated hope.” Does this poem celebrate hope? Discuss your answer briefly.                                                                                                   (3)

(Jonker remained desperately hopeful of a better future. The last line implies a future without restrictions. The repetition of “Not dead” implies hope and optimism.)

  • “The child” is repeated ten times in the poem. How does this repetition add meaning to the poem?                                                                                         (2)

(The repetition emphasises the age and innocence of the child. The effect is to highlight the number of innocent people who were killed in the fight against Apartheid.)

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