Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 926
A strange, apelike creature is terrorizing the affluent white suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa. It strikes at night, killing and maiming pets and frightening the many citizens who have seen it. Only young Stanley Dobrow has tried to photograph it, but the photograph turned out badly, revealing only some movement in the treetops. The bizarre happenings occasion much speculation and many letters to the editors of the white newspapers. It is a novel news story and a welcome one, providing as it does relief from the usual depressing fare: labor strikes, student riots, and international sanctions against the white-controlled South African government. To the white citizens of Johannesburg, the ape story seems to be something more immediately applicable to their own lives than does the racial conflict that is dividing their country.
One such citizen is Mrs. Naas (Hester) Klopper, the wife of a prosperous real estate agent, a fastidious woman proud of her fine house and of her skill at maintaining it. When her husband unexpectedly brings home a prospective client and his wife, Mrs. Klopper is ready with tea and sweetbreads to offer them. Charles and Joy Rosser seem shy, but quite pleasant: Mrs. Rosser is expecting their first child, and the couple are interested in the old Kleynhans place, a secluded farm that has stood empty for three years. Later, Naas Klopper shows them the place, and they take it on the condition that they can rent it with the option to buy. Though it seems unorthodox to him, Klopper is impressed with their offer of six months’ advance rent, and he agrees to their terms.
The Rossers are not, however, the ordinary young newlyweds they appear to be. Unknown to the Kloppers, and to the rest of the white community, the couple (they are not married, nor are they any longer lovers) have rented the Kleynhans place as a base from which to plan a revolutionary operation against the government. With the help of Vusi and Eddie, black revolutionaries posing as farm laborers, they set about transforming an abandoned shed into an ammunition warehouse and making other preparations for their strike. All four of them are careful to maintain appearances, observing by day the traditional social conventions between white masters and their black servants. Inside the house, however, and under cover of night, they live as equals, coping as best they can with the boredom and restlessness that come from confinement.
Meanwhile, the ape continues its raids on the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, and sightings of it continue to cause anxiety and speculation. Some say that the creature is a baboon; others insist that it is a chimpanzee. At various times, it is spotted by a group of doctors on a golf course, a pair of lovers trysting in a secluded cottage, a black servant in an affluent white household, and a young white police officer’s wife (she does not actually see the animal, but it steals a leg of venison that her husband has hung in the kitchen window). Citizens protest that it should be trapped, even killed; the SPCA protests such moves. Still, the sightings remain brief and momentary, with no witness getting a good enough look at the creature to say precisely what it is.
Life goes on at the Kleynhans place. Charles rounds up “necessities” (their word for munitions); Vusi, the older and more experienced of the blacks, instructs Eddie in the use and maintenance of weapons. The four talk politics, analyze the media, read, and wait. Eddie takes a secret trip into the city; Vusi fashions a makeshift saxophone from scrap metal. A complication arises when the black man who had worked for the late Mr. Kleynhans arrives to ask after his mealie patch, which he had planted before his old boss’s death. Vusi and Eddie manage to placate him by telling him that they will tend the patch, and he goes away. His visit, however, combined with Eddie’s ill-advised trip to the city, creates nervousness and a certain amount of friction among the four revolutionaries as the date of their operation approaches. The tension is finally broken by Eddie and Joy, who begin to dance together one evening to the music of Eddie’s tape player. Vusi joins in on his saxophone, and Charles watches them contentedly.
Soon, according to plan, Vusi and Eddie leave the Kleynhans place and move to a rural cave, where they undertake the final stages of their mission. Charles and Joy are visited by the black farmhand, who wonders what has become of the two blacks. Uncertain about what to do, Joy tells him that he may tend the mealie patch himself; her decision makes Charles uneasy, but both of them realize that they will soon be gone. Not long afterward, a massive power failure cripples the city, the result of the bombing of a power station. The Kloppers and the farmhand are questioned about Charles and Joy, who have by now disappeared. The police uncover the facts about the Rossers (which is not their real name) but are unable to apprehend either them or Vusi. Only Eddie is caught, and he is killed by the police as he tries to escape into Swaziland.
The ape, too, is killed, wounded in the arm by a white householder and later found dead. It turns out to have been a common baboon, gone berserk for some unknown reason. Its death is not covered extensively by the newspapers because public interest has been usurped by the attack on the power station.
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