The Child is not Dead Poem by Ingrid Jonker Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “The Child is not Dead” is written by African poet Ingrid Jonker. The poem was written as a response to the massacre of Sharpeville on 21st March 1960. The poem talks about the people killed in the massacre during the apartheid regime. The poem is translated from the original language of Afrikaans.

About the poet

Ingrid Jonker was born in 1933 in South Africa. She was an African poet. She wrote mainly in her native language, Afrikaans. She is considered one of the founders for modern Afrikaans literature. She published many poems in her lifetime, including “Ontvlugting (Escape)” and “Rook en Oker (Smoke and Ocher)”.


The poem consists of four stanzas, each varying in lines. The last stanza ends with a one-line coda. A coda is an epilogue that concludes a story.

Stanza 1

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 speaker in the first line refuses to believe that the child is dead. She says that it is not dead and is raising his fists towards his mother. The child raises a fist in protest and revolts against the violence of the authorities. His mother is screaming, just like his country. The mother screams in order to call out to her fellow citizens. The scream is a call to move towards freedom. The mother’s screams reach all the hearts which are under siege of oppression and racial discrimination.


The poem starts with a protest of not accepting the death of a young child. The poet rejects the acknowledgement of the child’s death as a resistance to the act. She says that the child does not lay dead in his mother’s arms. Rather he is raising his fist against the oppression.

Raising a fist is a symbol of resistance. The mother is screaming just like the entire country against the killings of her offspring. Her scream is filled with the demand for freedom. The mother’s demand is sensed by every heart in the country. The hearts under siege are compared to the people’s spirits that are being attacked by the oppressive authorities.

Stanza 2

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 again raising his fists against his father who is marching in the protest with the rest of his countrymen. This march is a protest for all the generations who have lived under the apartheid regime. This shows how long and tiring the fight for freedom has been.

Generations have come and gone while suffering under an unjust and biased regime.  All the people, including the child’s father, are screaming for justice and pride for the fallen people. The screams are evidence of the violence and bloodshed that they have faced while fighting for basi human rights and respect.


The poet begins the second stanza by the repetition of the second line from the first stanza. She talks about the father of the child who is present in the anti-pass demonstration. He is part of the protest of generations, i.e. an important moment in the history of the country.

All the people, along with the father, demand and scream for justice. They want justice for the bloodshed in the streets during the march. “Blood” here is also a symbol of anger that the oppressed people feel towards the regime.

Stanza 3

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 speaker in this stanza refuses to accept the death of the children killed during the protests. The speaker references the protest processions happening all over the country and says that the murder at the processions at Langa, Nyanga, Orlando or Sharpeville can not kill the spirit of the child.

The child now stands as a symbol of hope and unwavering strength for the entire nation. The speaker also refuses to accept the murder of the child in Philippi, shot in the head by a policeman. Shot by the same people put in charge to protect the rest of the citizens.


The poet repeated the first line of the first stanza again in order to emphasize her stance of not accepting the killing of the children during the march. The poet talks about the killing that happened in Langa, Nyanga, Orlando, Sharpeville and Philippi. In Philippi, the poet mentions the murder of a young child at the hands of the police.

The child lays dead with a bullet in his head at the Philippine police station. These images paint a gruesome picture of the violence and crimes committed against the people of the country and even young children who do know even fully understand what apartheid means.

Stanza 4

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

Without a pass


The speaker compares the child to the soldiers. She says that the child is following the same brutal path of the soldiers carrying guns and batons. The child’s presence is everywhere, in meetings, legislation’s and he peeps through the windows in houses and hearts of other mothers to instill a sense of anger and awakening in them. The child wanted to live a normal childhood and play in the sun but now his spirit is present everywhere, in the streets of Nyanga, Africa and the whole world. He roams the earth without the need for any permission.


The poet calls the child a shadow of the soldiers. Just like the soldiers fight in a war, the child’s spirit wants to fight the war for freedom. He will walk the same violent and brutal path of a soldier in a war. After death, the child has achieved an omniscient presence in the world. He has the ability to look over all the political meetings and legislations taking place. His spirit is present in the street and looks into the houses through the windows reminding people to fight against the oppressive government. The child also calls out to the hearts of all the mothers who have a child or lost a child in the struggle to stand strong and continue fighting.

The poet brings in a sharp image of the child playing under the sun, enjoying his childhood to lay emphasis on the innocence lost. A child who is supposed to be out playing is killed in the protest. A young life full of promise lost to the struggle. After death the child has achieved the ability to move freely now. The child’s spirit can trek through Africa and the whole world without needing a pass or permission. The rules of segregation and apartheid do not apply to him now.