Chapter 5 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

Msimangu invites Kumalo to stay for dinner and shows him a modern restroom where he can wash up. Kumalo marvels at the sink that gives out hot and cold water, and he is a little alarmed by the loud rushing of water in the toilet. Luckily he has “heard of such things before,” so he knows he has not broken it.

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There are many priests at the dinner, and Kumalo is careful to copy everyone else’s behavior with the many plates and forks. He sits beside an English minister with white skin who asks questions about Ndotsheni and the area around it. 

[Kumalo] told them...of the sickness of the land...how the tribe was broken, and the house broken, and the man broken; how when they went away, many never came back, many never wrote anymore.

The other priests listen gravely to Kumalo’s words, and then they explain the situation in Johannesburg. The black people are desperate, and many have no education or opportunities. The young people turn to theft and violence to make a living. The murder rate is high, and everyone is afraid.

After dinner, Kumalo privately asks about Gertrude. Msimangu says that her sickness is not the physical kind, but that no priest would want his sister to the kind of life she now lives. Her husband has disappeared, and now, in Msimangu’s words, “it would be truer to say…that she has many husbands.” She lives in Claremont, one of the worst of Johannesburg’s slums, where she makes a living as a prostitute and a vendor of illegal liquor. She has been in and out of prison, and she needs to be saved, if not for her own sake then for her young child’s.

Kumalo agrees that something must be done, and he asks Msimangu to take him to Gertrude tomorrow. Then he confesses that he has another worry: his son, Absalom, is also somewhere in Johannesburg, and Kumalo wants to find him. Msimangu is sympathetic and promises to help search for the boy.

Lastly, Kumalo asks about his brother, John Kumalo. This name makes Msimangu smile. He explains that John Kumalo is a leader in the city. However, he has lost his faith in God: he believes that religion cannot solve South Africa’s problems.

From Kumalo’s perspective, this is more bad news, but Msimangu seems a little more tolerant of John Kumalo’s secular worldview. After all, white colonialists have destroyed Africa’s traditional tribal structure, and nobody—not even God—can return things to the way they used to be. There are a few people, including some white people like the English priest at tonight’s dinner, who are working hard to make life better again. But the prayers and efforts of a few good people are not enough to solve South Africa's problems. Someone needs to inspire more action, and secular politicians may be the ones to do it. 

When this conversation is over, Msimangu takes Kumalo to the home of a churchgoer named Mrs. Lithebe, who rents Kumalo a tiny but serviceable room where he can sleep while he stays in Johannesburg. He thanks her and goes to bed, listening to the “roar of a great city” outside. As he  falls asleep, he wonders vaguely whether this strange place is even real.

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