Chapter 23 Summary
In Johannesburg, those who are not directly affected by the murder of Arthur Jarvis have already forgotten it. The newspapers are full of another story: the discovery of gold in a rural town called Odendaalsrust. In this chapter, the author adopts the voices of the white investors who get rich off this new discovery of gold.
These white investors claim that the gold is having an excellent effect on South Africa’s economy. They boast that a man can buy shares in the new mine efforts at a low price and then sell them for a much higher price later in the day. Most investors get scared and sell out too quickly, but still they make an excellent profit off of the discovery of gold in this place they have never seen. This thrills them, and they boast about the mineral wealth in South Africa.
Naturally, these speculators’ happiness is not without a few dark patches. They are mainly English-speaking, and they maintain a centuries-old mistrust for the Dutch-descended white people who dominate the area around Odendaalsrust. The speculators do not say this outright, but they do call it “a pity” that so many of South Africa’s great mines have “unpronounceable”—or Afrikaans-sounding—names. Amongst themselves, they suggest a few possibilities for re-naming Odendaalsrust after good Englishmen.
Next, the speculators complain about the “fanciful” ideas published in the liberal newspapers. Apparently some fools are suggesting that instead of speculating so much money on future mine earnings, South Africans should be spending their money on preventing erosion, educating black children, and paying black mine workers a wage that could actually keep them and their families fed.
The speculators scoff at these suggestions, saying that they are ridiculous. After all, stock market investments have nothing to do with the mines’ actual profits. These investments are just the results of smart thinking by brave men who are willing to risk their own money on the future profits of the mine industry. According to the speculators, a man who takes such a risk and gets rewarded need not feel any responsibility toward mine laborers.
At the end of this chapter, the narrator makes it clear that he thinks the white speculators’ whole perspective is wrong. He argues that this new discovery of gold should be used to build a better mining system that would pay laborers fairly and allow families to live together. He insists that if a country is wealthy, that means its people—all of them, not just a few—should reap the benefits.
The final sentences of the chapter underscore this point by stating the author’s opinion that it would be a shame if the discovery of gold led to the growth of another city like Johannesburg: “No second Johannesburg is needed upon the earth. One is enough.”