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Housing Targets by Kelwyn Sole

“Housing Targets” appears in Kelwyn Sole’s poetry collection Love That Is Night, published in 1998. Sole was born and brought up in a lower-middle-class family. Hence, he was pretty aware of the condition of the poor. He could connect with the unfortunate millions who were denied housing, basic sanitation, and electricity. After Nelson Mandela was democratically elected as the President of South Africa in 1994, he promised housing for the poor: an uncompromised assurance in the post-apartheid country. To date, as per the South African government records, millions of people live in traditional or informal houses. Sole’s poem is about people’s realization of the dream of a “better world.”

  • Read the full text of “Housing Targets” here, along with the analysis section.
Analysis of Housing Targets by Kelwyn Sole


Summary

Sole’s poem “Housing Targets” is all about the real picture of South Africa and the so-called promise of proper housing for all. The speaker of this piece describes how they dreamt of a better future, unsure of when it would come. In their version of the “better world,” foundations for their homes are still not laid, and they have no proper kitchens to hum the song of a better life. Instead, bricks kept on piling after the officials made promises. The poor millions have an idea when those bricks will actually be used.

From time to time, government officials appear in the peripheries to lay the foundation. They have everything, even more than what they need. In comparison, the poor think about what is still left with them, except a dreamy vision of a better home and a broken picture of a nice life. The speaker captures their present condition in the last two lines: they have doorknobs without doors and windows peering out at the blank.

Meaning

The title “Housing Targets” is related to the idea of the government target or vision concerning building houses for the needy and segregated population in South Africa. Those who lived in the peripheries, far from the booming urban centers, were promised proper/formal housing to better their living conditions. When Mandela was elected as the President in 1994, he proclaimed housing for all as an “unbreakable promise.” In reality, the actual housing target was never fully achieved. To date, more than 12 million people are in dire need of proper houses. Through the title, Sole tries to criticize the government’s plan and its implementation by provoking an image of real South Africa that is still considered “the most unequal and segregated in the world.”

Structure, Form, & Rhyme Scheme

“Housing Targets” is written in a combination of 10 stanzas. Some stanzas contain two lines (couplet), while others contain around five or fewer lines. There is no specific structure. Besides, there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter in the text. Hence, it is written in the free-verse form. Regarding the point of view, Sole writes this piece from the perspective of a first-person speaker using the plural pronoun “we,” representing aware South Africans. In the poem, there is no proper rhyming pattern, but readers can find the use of internal rhyming within the lines.

For instance, there is a repetition of the “f” sound in the lines “would discover foundation/ under our feet.” Another such internal rhyming can be found in “Men with darkening skins/ scribbled on by weather/ wait for their instructions.”

Poetic Devices

Sole makes use of a number of poetic devices in “Housing Targets” that are mentioned and exemplified below.

  • Enjambment: This device is used in order to make readers go through consecutive lines to grasp the idea. For example, it occurs in the first two stanzas of the poem.
  • Irony: Sole uses this device a fair number of times as this piece showcases the loopholes of modern African administration concerning their overarching promises. To understand how the device intensifies the poet’s criticism, one does not have to struggle. They can find it in the very first lines where the poet shows the reality of a better future.
  • Metaphor: The term “foundation” is used as a metaphor. It is compared to hope on which someone lays the bricks of the dream. It is also used in the line “who lays the first stone.”
  • Imagery: Sole uses visual imagery in a number of instances. For example, the line “Bricks pile up in the field” contains a visual image. He also uses organic imagery in the lines “Those left behind … – my bed is going here” in order to convey the internal emotions (hopelessness and grief) of the speaker.
  • Personification: It occurs in “Bricks pile up in a field,” “Men with darkening skins/ scribbled on by weather,” “racing engines/ turn around,” etc.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds can be found in the following phrases, “skins/ scribbled,” “weather/ wait,” “smile and shake,” “puzzled/ at precisely,” etc.


Themes

Kelwyn Sole’s poem “Housing Targets” taps on a number of themes that include hopelessness, promises, corruption, politics, poverty, etc. The main idea of the poem concerns the promises that were made but not realized. It also focuses on the financial disparity between the rich and the poor. Furthermore, Sole penetrates into the mindset of politicians and their apparently pro-public policies that, in reality, have poor implementation. Through writing this piece, Sole depicts the condition of South African peripheries in the 1990s. He projects a before-and-after picture of the poor millions that strikingly has no dissimilarities! Still, there are issues concerning homelessness, basic sanitation, safe drinking water, and electricity supply.

Tone

The tone of any poem helps readers understand the writer’s emotional standpoint concerning the topic. In “Housing Targets,” Sole uses a hopeless, discouraging tone in order to bring home his ideas. He tries to present reality from the perspective of a speaker who is well aware of the condition of the poor. Not only that, he takes time to look into the promises that were made by the government and how they actually progressed for the cause. Being aware of the real scene, Sole shows what an aware citizen thinks about the future of the poor. The tone of this piece solidifies that he is completely hopeless and depressed after looking at their condition.

Line-by-Line Critical Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-7

Somewhere in our past

we believed in the future

that a better world

would discover foundation

under our feet, and we

would forever be singing,

in its kitchen.

Kelwyn Sole’s “Housing Targets” begins with a quiet hazy description of the past as well as the future. The speaker is aware of the condition of his countrymen living below poverty. He talks about dreaming in the past regarding a better future. He cannot even remember when they have dreamt so. Probably, he tries to demystify the dream of a free nation with bright prospects.

In the past, the South African citizens believed in the prospect of a “better world,” as advocated by their President Mandela. Those living in traditional houses hoped that someday they would find a foundation under their feet. They imagined how life would be in a good house, and they would be singing peacefully in its kitchen. This homely picture, though it conveys a sense of contentment and satisfaction, it is used to present a sense of underlying hopelessness.

Lines 8-15

Bricks pile up in a field.

Whether they will be enough

no one knows. How

they fit together

is anybody‟s guess.

Men with darkening skins

scribbled on by weather

wait for their instructions.

In the following lines, the speaker depicts how bricks kept piling in a field, not actually used to lay a foundation. This pile of bricks is a symbol of people’s hopes and aspirations with the new government. They never knew how their dreams would be realized in the future. Not even they could imagine whether the “bricks” (efforts from the government) would be “fit” enough to build their future. None could guess.

In the next stanzas, Sole draws attention to a discouraging image. This picture consists of a few men who are waiting for their instructions. Their “darkening skins” how they toiled in every weather condition. The housing targets of the government not only brought hope to the poor but also to those laborers who thought of getting long-term work in construction. Like the homeless, the laborers are also sitting dejectedly waiting for the order.

Lines 16-25

From time to time

limousines miraculously appear:

there is always a somebody

in a suit willing to smile

and shake their hands

who lays the first stone.

Then the camera lights

and racing engines

turn around, shrink back

from where they came.

These lines from “Housing Targets” are universal in nature. People living in third-world countries (even in the developed ones) are well aware of this scene. They have seen luxury cars (especially limousines typically used by top-level politicians or leaders) miraculously appearing in the peripheries of a country from time to time.

The rural people generally don’t know who they actually are. They just know the person in a suit, coming out in shining black, is someone big and has the charismatic ability to revamp their future. The question is, “do they really care?”

Those big men always wear a fake smile and shake their hands (afterward sanitize their hands frequently). They try to act like they are one of them. Eventually, the first stone gets laid. It is the only foundation that gets laid.

After that, the camera lights and racing engines turn around to where they have come. The “camera lights” and “racing engines” are used for the sake of publicity stunts.

Lines 26-41

Those left behind

stare at their own hands

afterwards, puzzled

at precisely what

has been transacted, why

they are still being offered

bonds

squint

between gnarled fingers

pace out the hopeful distances:

– there will be a flower bowl

– my bed is going here.

As for now the doorknobs

have no doors.

Their windows peer out

at no sky. 

The last few lines of “Housing Targets” create a contrast between the haves and have-nots. These lines show the disparity between the politicians’ lifestyle and that of the hopeless millions who are denied their basic needs. After the suited figures dispatch from the scene, the poor ones stare at their hands. This image is associated with the idea of hopelessness and impoverishment.

They feel quite baffled by the fact that what has been transacted. Is this transaction of hope and aspiration going to bear any fruits? They ask themselves why they are still offered “bonds,” a metaphorical reference to promises.

The old ones who had hoped decades back for a better future hardly can see what they presently have. Somehow, they try to look back on how they dreamt of a home. Like children imagine several things out of nowhere, the poor imagine where they will keep their flower bowl or bed in their dream home.

Sole startlingly creates a contrast between their dream and reality in the last lines. He described their dreams as “doorknobs” without doors. Furthermore, he connects their present state with the image of windows peering out at nowhere. These broken images aptly resonate with the sense of absurdity in the poor’s hearts.

Historical Background

The poem “Housing Targets” was published in 1998 in Kelwyn Sole’s poetry collection, Love That Is Night. Born in 1951 in a lower-middle-class family, Sole in a 1994 interview said,

I certainly wasn’t brought up in a liberal or leftwing household, although I was instilled with a very strong sense of justice and the uniqueness – let’s call it the vulnerable uniqueness – of all living things.

This “strong sense of justice” made him write about the condition of housing during the 1990s. After ANC’s leader Nelson Mandela was elected as the President in 1994, he made an uncompromising promise to have housing for all, especially those who were living in poor conditions. Subsequently, the government’s aspiring RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) faded. Only the condition of the poor was constant. It changed at such a slow pace that several other problems bloomed alongside homelessness.

Through this poem, Sole does a reality check on the aspirations of South African people and describes how they were disillusioned.

Questions and Answers

Discuss the appropriateness of the title. 

The title “Housing Targets” draws readers’ attention to the government’s agenda concerning housing for all, especially for the poor millions. These “targets” are only chalked out on paper and never realized. In this poem, Sole talks about this issue and highlights the poor’s feelings. Refer to the Meaning section for more details about the poem’s title.

What does the word “foundation” (line 4) reveal about the speaker’s hopes?

In line 4, the term “foundation” is related to the realization of one’s dreams. As the foundation is the first step to building a house, a person’s optimism is what dreams are formed upon. In the poem’s context, the speaker once believed that they would discover a foundation under their feet. In reality, it was never built.

Comment on the use of pronouns in stanza 3.

In the third stanza, Sole uses the pronoun “they” in order to refer to the “bricks.” He tries to personify the bricks by using this personal pronoun. Furthermore, the pile of bricks can be viewed as a symbol of people’s hope.

Comment on how the images in lines 16–25 lines contrast with the rest of the poem, thus supporting the theme of the poem. 

One of the integral themes of “Housing Targets” is inequality. In lines 16-25, Sole projects the image of rich politicians who travel by limousines and wear lavish suits. Like vernal flowers, they appear in the peripheries for laying the first stone. Then, they shrink back to their luxury homes, not caring whether proper housing is provided to the poor or not.

In your own words, explain stanza three (lines 8 -12).

These lines depict the initiative taken by the government and the people’s preliminary reaction. When they saw bricks piling up in the field, they felt that they would have a home somewhere in the future. But, in reality, the pile remained in the field, and their dreams were never realized.

Account for the “darkening skins” in line 13.

The “darkening skins” of the workers show how they toiled in tough weather conditions. Their skin bears the mark of their hard work.

Who is the “they” in line 31?

In line 31, “they are still being offered,” Sole refers to the poor people by using the pronoun “they.”

Explain the “bonds” being offered in line 32.

In line 32, the “bonds” that are being offered to the homeless and poor are the mortgage bonds. The officials signed those bonds from them, promising them better housing. The term “bond” is also a reference to the government’s assurance.

What is a synonym for “gnarled” in line 34?

A synonym for “gnarled” is knobby. It also means rough and twisted.

How does the use of the negative form in the last four lines add to the tone of the poem?

The repetition of the negative form in the last four lines is used to depict the sense of absurdity in people’s hearts. For not having what they believed in, now they dream of some broken images such as doorknobs without doors and windows peering out at the blank. This absurdity and hopelessness, visible in the poem’s tone, can be found in these lines.

What is the tone of the speaker of the poem?

The tone of “Housing Targets” is sad, emotive, hopeless, and ironic. For further information, refer to the Tone section.


Similar Poems

  • “The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga” by Ingrid Jonker — This poem, written by another famous South African poet, is about a child who was brutally murdered during the Apartheid era.
  • “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood — This piece concerns a mother’s hopelessness after the death of her son by drowning.
  • “Bora Ring” by Judith Wright — In this poem, Wright laments the loss of the traditional Bora ceremony and, most importantly, their indigenous culture.
  • “Dreamers” by Siegfried Sassoon — This anti-war poem describes soldiers’ dreams and the reality of the trenches.


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