In "The Wasteland," Paton describes the lawlessness and violence inherent in South African society during the era of apartheid (1948-1994).
The story begins with a middle-aged man getting off a bus at night. The bus passes on, and he soon realizes his danger when he sees a group of young men waiting for him under a tree. With his wages in his pocket, he fears that he is about to be robbed. He is afraid that his wife will soon be made a widow and his children orphans.
He knows that he is trapped, for behind him is a convent with imposing gates which will not open. Opposite the road is a wasteland, full of tires, iron, and the bodies of old cars. He runs toward this wasteland, swinging his heavy stick in great anger. He is determined to do whatever he can to fight these hooligans off. Over and over again, he hits out wildly with his stick. Finally, his stick makes contact with a young man's head and he can hear the young man moaning and groaning as he goes down. The middle-aged man hides under an old lorry.
As time goes by, he hears the young men calling for Freddy. When they discover him dead (Freddy was killed by his own father when his father swung a fatal blow upon his son's head earlier), they chuck his body under the old lorry and run off. The middle-aged father is beside himself. His grief is palpable (obvious, apparent) when he discovers that he has killed his own son.
“People, arise! The world is dead.” Then he arose himself, and went heavily out of the wasteland.
To the father, the world has ended and everyone might as well be dead. In his mind, the loss of his son is a grievous catastrophe equal to the death of the whole world.
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