Nightfall in Soweto – Analysis


Nightfall in Soweto – Analysis

Nightfall in Soweto was written by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali


Nightfall in Soweto

by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali


Nightfall comes like

A dreaded disease

Seeping through the pores

Of a healthy body

And ravaging it beyond repair


A murderer’s hand,

Lurking in the shadows,

Clasping the dagger,

Strikes down the helpless victim.

I am the victim


I am slaughtered

Every night in the streets.

I am cornered by the fear

Gnawing at my timid heart;

In my helplessness I languish


Man has ceased to be man

Man has become beast

Man has become prey.


I am the prey;

I am the quarry to be run down

By the marauding beast

Let loose by cruel nightfall

From his cage of death.


Where is my refuge?

Where am I safe?

Not in my matchbox house

Where I barricade myself against nightfall.


I tremble at his crunching footsteps,

I quake at his deafening knock at the door

“Open up!” he barks like a rabid dog

Thirsty for my blood.


Nightfall! Nightfall!

You are my mortal enemy.

But why were you ever created?

Why can’t it be daytime?

Daytime forever more?




Nightfall in Soweto consists of 8 unequal stanzas. The themes of the poem include –

– Brutality – the destruction of lives as an effect of oppression.

– Fear – is instigated by the dreadful events that take place at nightfall.

– Insecurity – captured in the description of the oppression of the blacks. The anxiety as the white policemen asked them to open their doors at nightfall to the white policemen.

– Apartheid – shown in lack of equality between the blacks and whites in South Africa at his time.

– Injustice – The blacks were treated poorly and brutalized at night with no fair trial.


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Literary devices

The author paints a picture of nightfall that shows it as a time of terror, fear, anguish, and a time to be dreaded. This image contradicts the common idea of nightfall as a time to rest and a time to renew one’s energy. The author made use of several literary devices to bring his message home. Some of the poetic devices include –

– Exclamation (lines 32, 33)

– Personification (lines 33)

– Simile (line 1)

– Alliteration (line 2)

– Anaphora (lines 16, 17, &18)

Generally, Oswald Mtshali’s poetry reflects his harsh experiences and those of other blacks during the apartheid. His use of imagery, similes, and irony creates rich emotional effects.




‘Nightfall in Soweto’ symbolizes terror – the terror of the violence experienced by the South Africans Blacks during the apartheid. Nightfall brings with it fear, insecurity, and violence. The writer describes the danger and agony the people of Soweto felt at nightfall in vivid terms that state his feelings and experiences. The fear and anguish were in the use of symbolism by the author. Some examples include the descriptors like – “cruel nightfall”, and the imagery showing the actions that come at nightfall – “deafening knock”, “rabid dog”.



In my helplessness I languish 15

Man has ceased to be man

Man has become beast

Man has become prey.

I am the prey;

I am the quarry to be run down 20

By the marauding beast


Oswald Mtshali compared nightfall to a dreaded disease. A disease that is so damaging that the effects are irreparable. He highlights the helplessness and pain of the haunted. The ferocious acts, inhumanities, and atrocities of the white policemen were also clearly stated in lines 17, 18, 19


Man has become beast

Man has become prey.

I am the prey;


He notes the low estate of his dwelling by describing his house as a matchbox. The worry and desperation are seen in the tone as the writer described his fears as the oppressor approaches. There is rising anxiety as nightfall approaches as he dreads the deeds that come with nightfall.


About Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali is a South African poet born in Vryheil, Natal, on January 17, 1940. He lives in the South West Town (Soweto), Johannesburg. Like many other blacks at the time, records show that he served the whites, working as a messenger. ‘Nightfall in Soweto’ describes his experiences and observations of the sufferings of the blacks during the apartheid. The dread that came at nightfall being its core.


Oswald M. Mtshali has written in different languages – Zulu, English, and Afrikaans. Records show that he studied at Columbia University and lives in Soweto. Oswald M. Mtshali is a published author. He is also known to have worked as an educator. He once was a vice-principal of Pace College in Soweto.

Oswald won the Oliver Schreiner Prize for 1974 (Britannica).


by Chinyere Nwosu

August 8, 2021

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