Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 7 Summary

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Gertrude and her son are dressed in filthy rags, so Kumalo buys them new clothes. As he does so, he worries about spending so much money. On his small salary of eight pounds per month, saving money is nearly impossible. By the end of this journey, he may well be down to nothing. He wishes idly that Gertrude had a little money left over from “her sad occupation,” but she saved nothing.

The day after they find Gertrude, Msimangu and Kumalo pay a visit to John Kumalo. The brothers have not seen each other in many years, so John Kumalo does not immediately recognize the Reverend Stephen Kumalo. However, when Stephen makes John understand who he is, John welcomes him and invites him to tea. 

During the conversation that follows, Stephen asks why John stopped writing to his family in Ndotsheni. John explains that life in Johannesburg is so different that it is impossible to explain in a letter, so to him it seemed better not to write at all. 

John explains that in Johannesburg, he is important, a businessman and a leader. He is not exactly free, but at least he matters. In Ndotsheni, he does not matter. He is constantly obligated to obey the chief, who holds his position of power not because he deserves it, but because white people gave it to him.

As the conversation continues, John launches into a political speech. In Johannesburg, he says, black men work hard and get virtually nothing back. Black miners get paid so little they can hardly afford food, and their work ruins their bodies. Most end up dying in hospitals so poorly funded that the patients have to lie on the floors. Meanwhile, the white men who run the mines are rich. They keep all the profits for themselves. One sees this pattern everywhere in Johannesburg: black people work hard and stay poor, while white people reap all the profits.

According to John, the chief back home in Ndotsheni knows nothing of such things. The Church, which is like a chief in that it limits people’s freedom, also provides no answers. That, John says, is why he left the Church and stopped writing home. He is a man of Johannesburg now, and only in Johannesburg can he be understood.

Stephen does not fully understand this speech, but he decides it is better to change the subject than to argue. He asks about Absalom, and John confirms that the boy is friends with his son, Matthew. However, John has not seen the boys since they went off to work some factory job in a community called Doornfontein. He writes down the factory’s address, but that is the only help he offers.

After this visit, Msimangu says that John was mostly right. However, he is trying to solve the problem by seeking power for himself, and this is making him corrupt. According to Msimangu, the only way to heal South Africa is through love:

I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of the country, come together to work for it.

He adds that he is afraid this may never happen. By the time the white people figure out how to love, the black people may be too full of hate.  

Kumalo and Msimangu travel to Doornfontein, where they learn that Absalom has long since left his job. The white factory managers are helpful, however, and they get Absalom's address from one of the workers. Unfortunately, the woman who lives at that address says that Absalom is gone. He lived with her for a while, but he had bad friends, so she asked him to leave. She gives Kumalo a forwarding address and apologizes for not knowing more. 

It is too late to continue the search today, so Kumalo and Msimangu resolve to travel to the next address tomorrow. In the meantime, they make their way home to eat.

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