Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 4 Summary

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Kumalo rides the train through some areas where the land is very bad and some areas where it is a little better. He passes small white towns and huge black slums. The journey lasts a couple of days, and he has to change trains in cities called Ixopo and Pietermaritzburg. The final train runs on electricity, and Kumalo marvels at the sight of such a large vehicle drawing power from “metal ropes” instead of an engine.

On this final train, Kumalo does not know anyone, and he does not try to maintain the vain façade of a seasoned traveler. Instead he humbly asks questions of the people around him. When they pass the mines that surround Johannesburg, a group of mine workers explains what it is like to work there. They have to go deep underground to dig out rock, which the white men loosen for them with “fire-sticks,” or dynamite.

Outside the window, there are more people and more traffic than Kumalo has ever seen in his life. He asks if they are in Johannesburg, and the other men laugh. They say that Johannesburg is much bigger than this. But when they try to explain the height of the buildings, words fail them. One man says they are as tall as a certain hill in his home village, but this does not help Kumalo because he has never seen that hill.

As the train moves on, hundreds of travelers get on and off, or they board other trains, which roar past so loudly that Kumalo is frightened. Outside, the buildings grow taller, and finally the other travelers point at the skyscrapers of Johannesburg. Kumalo stares, trying to make sense of the enormity of it all.

Eventually the train comes to the central station, and Kumalo—head aching from stress and fatigue—makes his way through the crowds to the street. He waits at a corner, but when everyone else begins to walk, he is too scared to cross. He has been told that he is allowed to go when the light is green, but some cars and trucks seem to ignore these signals. Eventually he pulls away from the street entirely and just leans against a building, afraid to take the next step.

After a while, a boy approaches and speaks to Kumalo in an unfamiliar language. When he does not get an answer, the boy switches to Zulu and offers to help Kumalo find the bus station. Kumalo accepts this help gratefully. At the station, the boy shows him the right bus and offers to go buy a ticket while Kumalo stands in line. Kumalo thanks the boy and gives him a pound.

The boy walks away quickly, but he does not come back. Eventually Kumalo leaves the line and looks for him, but he is nowhere to be found. Kumalo stops a stranger and asks where to find the ticket office, but the stranger explains that there is no such place: travelers pay their fares onboard the buses. When Kumalo explains about the boy who took his pound, the stranger shakes his head and calls the boy a thief.

Fortunately for Kumalo, the stranger is a member of Reverend Msimangu’s church, and he offers to show Kumalo to the right place. This stranger is honest, and soon Kumalo finds himself in the home of Msimangu, a kind black priest who welcomes him warmly. Kumalo, exhausted, is grateful that he has found a place where he can be comfortable and safe.

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