Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625
In Chapter 12, the author of Cry, the Beloved Country speaks in the voices of white South Africans who are afraid of the violence in their country. At the time the novel was written, these white South Africans held all the political power and made all the laws, even though black South Africans outnumbered them by a large margin. The best jobs and the best property were explicitly reserved for whites. This meant that black people were stuck in poverty with no way out.
All of the white speakers in this chapter are aware of this situation, but they have different ideas about what to do. Some regard all “natives” as criminals, whereas others tend to pity “natives” and advocate kindness. However, the reader should note that even the kinder speakers assume white superiority: no one except the author even hints that political and economic equality may be the real solution.
In the text of this chapter, some whites say South Africa needs more police to crack down on black criminals. Others say that law enforcement cannot solve anything, and that people without opportunities turn naturally to crime. After all, how can uneducated and unemployed people be expected to feed themselves without stealing?
Other voices argue about the pass laws. (This was a set of laws that required black South Africans to carry identification documents that dictated strict limitations on where they could live, work, and travel.) One speaker says that the white government must control black people’s movements more strictly, but another points out that the pass laws overtax the justice system. This latter speaker insists that “the pass laws don’t work” but, when pressed, has no solution to offer. He does not, for instance, suggest repealing the pass laws and allowing black South Africans to travel freely within their own country.
The next voice complains about the noise and annoyance caused by “natives” at a beautiful lakeside recreation spot. Her companion advocates more tolerance, but she refers to black people condescendingly as “poor creatures” and assumes that they are all “servants.”
Eventually, the narrator’s voice breaks in among the others. He claims that South Africa’s problems will continue as long as the black majority is kept poor and uneducated. But he takes this logic much further than any of the other speakers when he says that black South Africans who are better paid and better educated will ultimately demand political equality as well.
According to the narrator, life is getting worse for white South Africans. In the current climate of crime, they are forced to worry constantly about their own safety. Their only repayment for this is that they get to consider themselves “superior beings” compared to their black compatriots. Until they give up their control, they will always live in fear, but they will not have to face the “unknown” that comes from sharing power with people they consider to be unlike them.
The end of this chapter returns to Kumalo’s story. He and Msimangu hire a taxi they cannot really afford, and they rush back to each stop they have already made in their search for Absalom. At each stop, they learn that the police have been there before them. However, nobody seems to know what the police wanted.
By the end of the day, Kumalo has to pay a huge taxi fare, and he has a strong but unconfirmed impression that whatever is going on with Absalom is the worst kind of trouble. Although he does not say so, he is still afraid that his son was involved in the murder of Arthur Jarvis. When they return to Msimangu’s home, Kumalo is trembling. Msimangu has no comfort to offer but the warmth of the fire.