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Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

An Abandoned Bundle

Wrap your mind around these ones!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet describes the obscene conditions of living in White City Jabavu. Almost as a metaphor to life there, he sees a group of scavenging dogs ripping apart the corpse of a baby which had been dumped. In the meantime, the baby's mother continues with her life without even a care for what she has done.


Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali was born in Vryheid (Natal) in 1940, where he grew up and completed his schooling.

He desired thereupon to attend Wits University but was unable to do so because the Apartheid laws forbade Black people studying at "White" institutions except under exceptional circumstances.

Instead, he travelled to the United States where he attended Columbia University, graduating with a Masters degree in Creative Writing and Education.

On his return to South Africa, he completed his first volume of poetry which he called Sounds of a Cowhide Drum. It was published in 1971 and had a dramatic impact because it was the first major work by a Black poet in South Africa.

It was also eagerly studied by liberal White South Africans who were anxious to read poetry from their Black brothers. The anthology, however, was criticised by fellow Black poets on the grounds that it was too conservative and not at all militant.

When Mtshali published Fireflames in 1980, he had responded to his critics. Indeed, this second anthology tended to foster open rebellion, being partially inspired by the Soweto youth uprisings of 1976.

After this second anthology, Mtshali settled down as an educator, first at Pace College in Soweto where he became vice-principal, and then at the New York City College of Technology where he became an Adjunct Professor, teaching African folklore and modern African history.

In 1971 Mtshali was honoured with South Africa's Olive Schreiner Poetry Prize. In 1973 he was awarded the Poetry International Award in London.

"An Abandoned Bundle" is characterised by graphic imagery of appalling savagery. The images are meant to shock.

Indeed, the very powerful visual impact instills in the reader a strong feeling of disgust for the dreadful conditions under which the people of White City Jabavu lived.

Or is the poet commenting on the people in general who are living under the apartheid regime?

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Scavenging dogs
draped in red bandanas of blood
fought fiercely
for a squirming bundle."
  • What figure of speech is being used in "fought fiercely"? What is the effect of using this particular figure of speech? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why are the dogs described as being "draped in red bandanas of blood"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the significance of the word "scavenging"? (4)

[Need help?]

"I threw a brick;
they bared fangs
flicked velvet tongues of scarlet
and scurried away,
leaving a mutilated corpse --
an infant dumped on a rubbish heap."
  • Examine the power of the metaphor "velvet tongues of scarlet". (4)

[Need help?]

  • Explain the use of parenthesis in the last line. (4)

[Need help?]

" 'Oh! Baby in the Manger
sleep well
on human dung.' "
  • Explain what you think the poet means by the words, "Oh! Baby in the Manger"? Why has he chosen these words? (6)

[Need help?]

"Its mother
had melted into the rays of the rising sun,
her face glittering with innocence
her heart as pure as untrampled dew."
  • Explain the psychological situation of the mother. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the use of the word "melted". (2)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the paradox of this last stanza in relation to the horrific incident described in the rest of this poem. (2)

[Need help?]

This poem can perhaps be described as a social metaphor, depicting the appalling condition of life in apartheid South Africa as a whole.
  • Comment, referring to the poem to substantiate your answer. (10)

[Need help?]

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