Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 8 Summary

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The following morning, Kumalo and Msimangu set out again to look for Absalom. Today they are headed to Alexandra, a black slum just outside the city limits of Johannesburg. Alexandra is dangerous and overcrowded, but black people are legally permitted to own property there. This makes it an attractive place to live, because in most other areas it is only possible to rent.

Kumalo and Msimangu take a bus to the center of Johannesburg, where they intend to board the bus to Alexandra. However, an activist named Dubula stops them and urges them to find another mode of transportation. He explains that a boycott is underway to protest a recent increase in bus fares.

When Kumalo protests that the eleven miles to Alexandra are too far for an old man to walk, Dubula agrees—but he says that many old men are walking anyway, as are old women, pregnant women, and cripples. If people refuse to make the sacrifice now, the bus companies will raise fares to a price the people simply cannot afford.

Hearing this, Kumalo says that he can walk. As he and Msimangu set out, Msimangu says that Dubula is “the heart” of black politics in Johannesburg. Kumalo’s brother John is “the voice,” and a third man, Tomlinson, is “the brain.”

As Kumalo and Msimangu walk, cars and trucks roar past them. Eventually one car stops, and the white driver offers a ride to Alexandra. They ride in silence to the edge of the slum, where the man drops them off.

Afterward, Msimangu says it is “something to marvel at” when white men help black men. These days, there is so much violence between blacks and whites that it seems fear would drown out all decency. He tells Kumalo a few stories, even saying obliquely that young black men sometimes rape white women.

However, Msimangu also knows stories about people of different skin colors taking risks just to help each other. He tells Kumalo about a white woman who was attacked and raped by a white man who left her helpless and nearly naked in the cold. With nowhere else to go, she knocked on the door of a black family’s hut. The man of the family went to a nearby white residence in the middle of the night to get help, even though he could have been shot or attacked by dogs. The white people involved called this black man “a good Kaffir.” Kaffir is a highly offensive racial slur in South African English, similar to the N-word in American English. However, some white South Africans in the 1940s knew no politically correct words for people of other races. Msimangu understands that the word was used without any bad intent, and he says so.

As Msimangu finishes this story, he and Kumalo come to the next house in their search for Absalom. The woman who comes to the door says that Absalom no longer lives there. She claims to know nothing about where he went or why. Msimangu questions this woman closely, and she admits that Absalom and his friends sometimes used to come home late at night with money and expensive things. Msimangu understands that this means the boys were stealing. The woman suggests that he speak with a taxi driver who was a friend of theirs.

Following the woman’s directions, Msimangu and Kumalo go to the nearest taxi stand. There they find the taxi driver, who says that Absalom and his cousin moved to a place called Shanty Town. The driver does not know Absalom’s exact address, but he says everyone knows everyone in that area.

Once again, it is getting late. Msimangu and Kumalo have agreed not to use the buses, so they hire the taxi driver to take them home. On the way, they see many black passengers riding in white people’s cars. The police are trying to stop it, and Msimangu and Kumalo overhear one of the white drivers daring a police officer to prosecute him. This scene stuns them both.

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