Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 9 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553

In Chapter 9, Cry, the Beloved Country shifts briefly away from Kumalo and his story. Instead, the author speaks in the voices of the many people who move to Johannesburg from rural villages all over South Africa. They come because their crops fail, or their bills get too high, or their families grow too large to divide the land further, or they face any of a thousand other challenges.

Black South Africans are not allowed to live in the white neighborhoods, and the black neighborhoods are overcrowded. White officials are slow to add more housing to accommodate newcomers, so some newcomers have to wait years to be assigned a place to live. In the meantime, they rent rooms from the people who already have homes.

Many people in Johannesburg live close to starvation. Taking in renters is a way to get money for food. Sometimes ten or more people end up cramming themselves into houses with just two rooms. People have no privacy, and they argue a great deal. Often the original inhabitants of a home fear the strangers who have moved in. Often the newcomers are quickly forced to move out again, with nowhere to go.

Eventually, the leader Dubula hatches a plan to build Shanty Town. He picks an empty patch of land by the railroad tracks and urges families to build shacks there—even if they have no building materials except sticks and grass and cardboard.

Everyone knows that the white people do not want another black slum in Johannesburg. But Dubula does not plan to let the white people stop him. He sets a date and urges people to build their shacks quickly, all together in just one night. Dubula says that the white people will be amazed when they see how many people are desperate enough to live in rough shacks that cannot even keep out the weather. He says the government will build more real houses when Shanty Town makes it clear that there is no other choice.

Dubula’s plan sounds desperate, and many people resist. They tell him they cannot live through winter in shacks that are too flimsy to keep out the rain. They look for another way. Many try to bribe officials to give them real houses, but the officials ask for impossibly large sums of money.

In the end, a huge number of people go along with Dubula’s plan. They gather grass, chop down trees, and steal scraps of metal. On the appointed night, they all work together to erect their shacks. The children help as much as they can, if they can. If the children are sick, the parents have to bring them anyway.

The shacks are too cold and too open to the weather, and one of the babies quickly develops a bad fever. The parents call Dubula for help, and he tries to bring in a doctor. The doctor comes too late, and the baby dies.  

But Dubula was right about the white people. The morning after Shanty Town is built, they seem shocked to see so many shacks by the railroad tracks. Reporters show up with cameras, and when word gets out, and soon work begins on a new set of houses. The people of Shanty Town wait and hope that the houses will be ready in time.

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