Sizwe Banzi arrives at the photography studio of a man named Styles in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. When he asks to have his picture taken, he gives his name as Robert Zwelinzima. Banzi has recently arrived in Port Elizabeth from his home in King William's Town. He originally stayed with a friend named Zola, who was helping Banzi find a job. Their search was unsuccessful, and Banzi was told by authorities that without a job he must leave the city within three days. Banzi then went to stay with Zola's friend Buntu.
Buntu suggests that Banzi go to work in the mines, but Banzi thinks that is too dangerous. The two men go out for a drink, and when they leave, Buntu goes into a back alley to relive himself. There, he finds a dead man, and looks into his identity book to find an address. Instead, he finds a work-seeker's permit, which is what Banzi needs. Buntu takes the permit and puts it in Banzi's identity book; Banzi will adopt a dead man's identity in order to be able to remain in Port Elizabeth. Effectively, Sizwe Banzi will be dead, his identity gone, and Banzi will resume life as Zwelinzima, and will remarry his wife under his new name.
This story is told with interesting shifts in timeframe and point of view. For a comprehensive plot summary, please refer to the third Enotes link below.