This section contains 1,326 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
Msimangu takes Kumalo to Claremont, where Gertrude lives. Gertrude is shocked to see her brother, who is just as shocked at how poorly she is living, surrounded by men and neglecting her son. Gertrude is filled with shame, but Kumalo prays with her, offering both God’s forgiveness and his own. Gertrude agrees to return to Ndotsheni with him. Kumalo helps pack up her few possessions and sets her up in a room at Mrs. Lithebe’s. The next day, Msimangu takes Kumalo to another neighborhood where they find his brother John. Kumalo is shocked to learn that his brother has gotten a divorce and has a new wife. John has left the church, believing that religion does nothing practical to help the oppressed plight of black South Africans. John stopped writing to Kumalo because he didn’t think his brother would understand his new, urban lifestyle. In Johannesburg John is free of tribal chiefs and has his own power. He is protesting against whites who rely on cheap black labor in the gold mines to enrich themselves.
John gives Kumalo the last known address of the factory where Absalom worked. He and his own son, who is a close cousin to Absalom, had become estranged. So, he has not seen either young man for a long time. After they leave, Msimangu explains that John, along with men named Tomlinson and Dubula are leaders of a movement to rouse blacks to fight for their rights, yet John and the others lack the courage to do anything that might send themselves to prison. At the factory, the white supervisors find an employee who knew Absalom, though Kumalo’s son no longer works there. They get the address of a Mrs. Ndlela in Sophiatown where Absalom lived. Once again Kumalo and Msimangu are too late to find the boy. Mrs. Ndlela says Absalom left a year ago, but she gives them a forwarding address. She admits to Msimangu that she never saw Absalom misbehave, but he spent time with a bad crowd.
The next day the two men try to take a bus to Alexandra, a black community where Absalom might live. However, they are talked out of using public transit by Dubula. He is urging blacks to boycott the buses in protest of a fare hike. They decide to walk eleven miles to Alexandra. They are given a ride by a sympathetic white man who goes out of his way to take them. Mrs. Mkize, the owner of the house where Absalom once lived, claims the two cousins moved out a year ago. She seems afraid and refuses to talk more. Msimangu sends Kumalo away so he can talk with Mrs. Mkize privately, and he swears on a Bible he is not going to cause her trouble. She finally tells him she saw the cousins with lots of goods, watches, clothes, and money, though she never saw any violence or blood. She tells him that Absalom was friends with a well-known taxi driver named Hlabeni.
Msimangu regroups with Kumalo, and they find Hlabeni. They hire him to drive them back to Johannesburg. Hlabeni also seems afraid at the mention of Absalom, but he tells Msimangu and Kumalo that Absalom lives in a squatters Shanty Town in Orlando. As they drive back to Johannesburg, they see whites offering rides to all the blacks walking home to Alexandra. The police try to make trouble for these whites for operating without taxi licenses, but the whites aren’t afraid to go to court and continue helping as they can.
In the novel, the author, a white South African, tries to present a balanced view of the relationship between whites and blacks. Many whites go out of their way to help blacks, such as with the bus boycott. Blacks occasionally act violently against whites, and even against themselves. The novel does not present the situation as “good” versus “evil” with a saintly hero and an evil villain. There are virtue and sin on both sides; but, the author indicates the time has come to raise awareness about greater injustices and to start enacting broader changes.
The struggle for some level of equality between blacks and whites takes precedence in 1940s South Africa. Women are treated as second class citizens. Their rights are not a priority. Kumalo’s utter disgust with Gertrude’s behavior – selling alcohol and her own body – shows little compassion for the difficulty of surviving as a woman alone in the city at that time. Kumalo tells Gertrude “You have to shamed us” and Gertrude herself claims, “I am a bad woman, my brother. I am no woman to go back” (Page 34). Though Kumalo eventually “forgives” her and accepts her back into the fold, the scene is indicative of how women are viewed in this culture. Similarly, women’s priorities are illustrated by Kumalo’s wife, who wants a stove “like any woman” (Page 36). Modern readers may have difficulty digesting such antiquated views of women. Kumalo’s wife is never even given the dignity of a first name. There were innumerable cultural and generational differences between twenty-first century norms and a world divided against itself more than half a century ago.
Readers should beware of a bias presented in the text that equates city life with a lack of morals and rural village life with traditional values. Going to Johannesburg means one will certainly become corrupted, as is evident by Kumalo’s family: Absalom, Gertrude, and John. John in particular demonstrates a petty desire for power, status, and wealth by shedding his first wife and his religious beliefs. He abandons his family, not even writing home, because he does not think they will “understand” his new lifestyle. The “lifestyle” is rife with authorial judgment, right down to the ironic way John himself disparages the tribal way of life. Though no one character in the novel is presented as perfect or blameless, there is still a subtle sense that retaining tribal, village life would have maintained a morality now lacking in South African culture. By examining the question from all sides, that conclusion is too easy. For example, the villages are dying because the land has not been properly maintained. Also, even if everyone had stayed in Ndotsheni, lack of food and work might have driven people to equally poor moral judgments.
John does however present an interesting view of religion when he proclaims, “I do not wish to offend you gentlemen, but the Church too is like the chief…You are not free to have an experience. A man must be faithful and meek and obedient, and he must obey the laws, whatever the laws may be. It is true that the Church speaks with a fine voice, and that the Bishops speak against the laws. But this they have been doing for fifty years, and things get worse, not better” (Page 39). The novel focuses on the friction between passive and active as styles for evoking change. Kumalo tends to rely on God to assist in the righting of wrongs, or to rely on whites who have the power to change. John declaims about poor blacks changing their lot for themselves by demanding greater economic benefit from the gold mines; yet Msimangu indicates that John does not actually back up his rousing oratory with action. He is as passive as his brother, despite his renunciation of the Church. There is even some irony in the fact that the most active protest that black leaders like Dubula organize, is a bus boycott. It is a form of action through inaction. The question of who bears responsibility to evoke change in unjust South Africa – black or white, rich or poor, religious, or secular – permeates the book right along with how to force a shift in the way everyone thinks about equality.
sullen, denunciation, stout, cunning, compel, fidelity, earnest, gratify, exposition, somber, irresolute
This section contains 1,326 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)