Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521
The mine laborers are holding a protest, demanding higher wages. John Kumalo, who is known for his beautiful speaking voice, shouts that black laborers only want to benefit from the latest discovery of gold in South Africa. Surely they, too, have a claim to some of South Africa’s resources.
In the crowd, protestors shout and cheer, and the police watch over them. One officer is nervous, but the other has heard John Kumalo speak before. He says confidently that John Kumalo is a coward. He always gets the crowd just a little excited, and then he backs off. Clearly he understands that he might go to jail, lose his business, or even get murdered if he incited an actual rebellion. He is unwilling to do any of those things, so he always ends his speeches before the crowd gets out of control.
In front of the crowd, John Kumalo says it is wrong that laborers work so hard and still starve. Elsewhere in the world, downtrodden people have fought for and won the right to fair pay. “Is it we that must be kept poor so that others may stay rich?” he asks.
The crowd cheers and shouts, and the police grumble that it is dangerous to allow a man with such a great speaking voice to be a leader among the workers. They murmur that the government should throw him in prison “or shoot him.”
However, the police officers do not have to worry. John Kumalo loves his possessions and his small amount of power, and he is unwilling to risk either one. He likes speaking in front of crowds, and he likes it when people applaud and admire him. The narrator observes, “There is no applause in prison.” So just when the crowd gets really excited, John Kumalo thanks everyone and leaves.
Stephen Kumalo watches this speech, and he thinks his brother’s voice is amazing. With Msimangu by his side, he works his way forward in the crowd so they can hear what the next man has to say.
Jarvis also attends the speech, accompanied by his daughter-in-law’s brother, John Harrison. After the speech is over, Jarvis says he wants to leave. John, who believes strongly in reform and revolution, reflects privately that old men cannot face the truth about what needs to happen in South Africa. “But we have to face it,” he says to himself.
All of South Africa grows anxious as the strike movement grows, but the actual strike turns out to be a fairly minor ordeal. The black laborers march around the mines until the police go in and fight them. Three black men die, but that is the worst of it. The leaders of the strike demand a chance to negotiate with the mine owners, but the owners refuse on the grounds that black people are “simple souls” who cannot learn “the art of negotiation.”
In the end, the strike is stopped, and things go back to the way they were. However, the narrator observes that even when a situation looks quiet, a great deal may be happening below the surface.
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