The primary conflicts in the novel are between people who have national and ethnic differences rather than racial differences. Makhaya Maseko, the protagonist, is a black African man who escapes into Botswana from South Africa. In Botswana, he comes into conflict with Chief Matenge, who is also a black African man. In the village of Golema Mmidi, Makhaya goes to work with Gilbert, a white European, on an agricultural development project. Progressive ideas about infrastructural improvements support the positive values of the project. Gilbert is impressed with Makhaya and assigns him increasingly responsible positions. While the projects that these men carry out together are apparently meant to benefit the black community members, and their working together seems to indicate that their relationship transcends racial limits, it is generally the case that Gilbert is leading and Makhaya follows him—a fundamental colonized relationship.
The relationship between Pauline Sebeso and Makhaya largely works against gendered stereotypes, as Pauline is almost equally a protagonist. Their growing relationship is developed as one of mutual respect and understanding rather than the man's domineering position over the woman. Pauline is a single mother who feels compelled to put her underage son into the labor force; the eight-year-old is a cattle rancher’s assistant. When he does not return from his assigned period of work and instead goes missing, Pauline takes an assertive stance in solving the mystery of his disappearance. Together, Pauline and Makhaya search for her son in the bush; sadly, they find his dead body. When she brings him back and holds a funeral for him, she decides to challenge the authority of the Chief Matenge. Rather than applying themselves to their agricultural work, the other villagers support Pauline and decide to confront the chief together. However, Matenge takes his own life. The implication is that Pauline’s actions, along with the villagers’ support, contribute to Matenge growing fearful and losing confidence in his own authority.