Comparative Analysis Of Oswald Mtshali’s Just A Passer By And An Abandoned Bundle

Comparative Analysis Of Oswald Mtshali’s Just A Passer By And An Abandoned Bundle


1.1 Background to the Study

The words of poetry are carefully chosen because they not only bear the deep emotions of the poet but also reflect his innocent views of matters. Poetry is life in writing or viva voce. Through poetry, poets expose the true identity and remote contents of their tender hearts. Whereas writers of other genres of literature express their emotion, the message of the poet sinks deeper and usually, it is only meant for a few.

According to geographical regions, poetry can be divided into African poetry, Asian poetry, Caribbean poetry, African American poetry, English poetry etc. Since poetry, as a genre of literature, draws her strength from the society, the peculiarities of the different societies would be reflected in the poems of such societies. The focus of this material is African Poetry.

In writing, many scholars trace the different beginnings of poetry in Africa. Ruth Finnegan dedicated so much in the study of oral literature in Africa which includes the African poetry. However, two main categories are distinguishable: the traceable beginning of poetry and the untraceable beginning of African poetry. The latter is often referred to as “time immemorial.” African poets write about African experiences, virtues and heritage. The experiences include slavery, colonization and apartheid. One of such writers who capture these experiences is Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali.

This work studies African poetry through the windows of Oswald Mtshali. The windows are accessed through two of Mtshali’s poem. These are: “Abandoned Bundle  and “Just a Passerby,” These poems are analyzed briefly with a highlighted extract. In conclusion, a critical judgment of Oswald Mtshali is made in line with the observations found in the analyses of the poems. This critical judgment is then related to Africa poetry at large.

Oswald M. Mitshali is one of black South Africa’s most talented poet. He was born in Natal and was a victim of the apartheid system which denied him admission into the University of Witwatersrand. But this did not dampen his desire for literary progress as he published his first volume of poems titled Sounds of the Cowhide Drum, which established him as a significant poet.

Mitshali’s poems are about the people and their life in a hostile society which he is part of. The theme of survival in a defiant and hostile society runs through a number of his poems. The quiet control and the colloquial tone is noticed when the poet writes of his peoples’ sufferings. There is no venom of hatred expressed but most of the themes are conveyed through distilled lyrical verses and ironic humour. Similarly, irony and cynicism are the main characteristic features of his poetry as can be seen in the poem below.


Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, (born 1940, Vryheid, Natal, South Africa), South African poet who wrote in English and Zulu and whose work drew deeply upon the immediate experience of life in the Johannesburg township of Soweto.

Mtshali worked as a messenger before his first collection of poems, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum (1971), won the Olive Schreiner Prize for 1974. After studying in the United States at the University of Iowa and Columbia University (New York), Mtshali returned to South Africa in 1979 and taught at a private school in Soweto. His second volume of poems, Fireflames (1980), was banned by the South African government because it was dedicated to the schoolchildren of Soweto, an obvious reference to the uprising there in 1976. Mtshali later edited the nonfiction work Give Us a Break: Diaries of a Group of Soweto Children (1988).

Mtshali’s poetry inevitably reflects his harsh experiences under the apartheid regime. He observes with a bitter and sardonic eye the grimy beer halls, the crowded trains, the slum housing, and the harsh working conditions that make up the lot of black Africans in South Africa. His bitterness finds expression in brilliantly controlled lines etched with an acid irony. Mtshali’s poetry is remarkable for its evocative imagery, and his confident and unexpected similes have a rich emotional impact.


The East African poet Oswald Mstshali’s selected poem will be analysed thematically and stylistically.

Specifically, the study will

  1. Examine the theme of the poems.
  2. Identify the poetic techniques employed.


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