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New International, August 1948


Kate Leonard

Books in Review

South African Story


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 6, August 1948, p. 192.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Cry, The Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948, $3.00

Paton’s novel of South Africa has received uniformly high praise for its artistic excellence. This it deserves, and the reason lies in the skillful translation – without the use of dialect and with no debasement of the English – of the native speech into language of haunting beauty.

“The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lightning flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth. Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more.”

To achieve this is good; to sustain it required a high degree of craftsmanship.

The author, head of a boys’ reformatory in Johannesburg, has written on the race question from a liberal point of view in such places as Race Relations, a quarterly published by the South African Institute of Race Relations.

Although Cry, The Beloved Country is a strong picture of the people and their problem, it is not the South African Fontamara. This is partly so because of the story. The hero of the novel, the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, is an old Zulu minister of the Anglican church in the rural district of Ndotshemi, Natal, who stands up under Job-like afflictions. Among them is his son’s murder of Arthur Jarvis, the son of the white landowner in Ndotsheni, during an attempted robbery. Arthur Jarvis was known as a kafferboetie, that is, one who works for the welfare of the non-European, and his ideas had been alien to his father. The high point of the plot is the coming to an understanding of these two men, the father of the murderer and the father of the slain man. Together they begin work for the restoration of the valley. It is the farm demonstrator who formulates the question: “When the children grow up, there will again be too many. Some will have to go still.”

The breaking of the tribal system, the erosion of the soil – all roads lead to Johannesburg.

“We set aside one tenth of the lands for four-fifths of the people. Thus we made it inevitable, and some say we did it knowingly, that labor would come to the towns.”

The novel’s lack is not the omission of a description of the life as it must be lived. The city is seen and well described as Rev. Kumalo hunts his son. Shanty Town, result of the horrible housing shortage; the boycott with white people lending their cars to transport the native workers; the mine strike when gold is found at Odendaalsrust – all are here as if seen by a more tender Zola. And the fear is here also:

“We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pup ... We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings.”

But if message there is, it is contained in these words of Msimangu, the preacher: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they turn to loving they will find we are turned to hating.” The heightening of the struggle is lost.

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