Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country. . . .
While waiting to go to Shanty Town, Kumalo spends time with Gertrude and her son. He and Gertrude have little to say to each other, but he takes comfort in telling his small nephew about Natal, and Gertrude finds a friend in Mrs. Lithebe. In Shanty Town, Kumalo and Msimangu ask a nurse about Absalom’s whereabouts. The nurse sends them to Mrs. Hlatshwayo, with whom Absalom was staying. She tells them that Absalom was sent to the reformatory. As they walk to the reformatory, Msimangu tries to comfort Kumalo, saying that he has heard good things about the reformatory. To Msimangu’s surprise, Kumalo asks him what he spoke about with Mrs. Mkize, Absalom’s landlady in Alexandra. Msimangu reveals that she told him that Absalom and John’s son often came home late with bundles of white people’s possessions.
At the reformatory, a young white man tells Msimangu and Kumalo that Absalom was a model student, but that he was discharged a month earlier because of his age, good behavior, and the frequent visits from his pregnant girlfriend. Despite Kumalo’s worry that the young man will be unsympathetic to a black man who speaks no Afrikaans, the young man is quite helpful. He promises to take Msimangu and Kumalo to Absalom’s new home in Pimville, where, the young man says, Absalom is saving money and preparing to marry his girlfriend.
The young man, Msimangu, and Kumalo go to Absalom’s house in Pimville, where Absalom’s girlfriend, still a child herself, tells them that Absalom left the house a few days earlier and has not yet returned. Kumalo asks her what she will do, but before she can respond, Msimangu speaks harshly to the girl and tells Kumalo that her problem is one that Kumalo cannot solve. When Kumalo protests that she carries his grandchild, Msimangu scoffs at the idea and wonders out loud how many other children Absalom may have. After informing them that Absalom has been absent from work for many days, the young man leaves them at the gates of Orlando, where Msimangu apologizes to Kumalo for his unkind words. Kumalo forgives him and asks Msimangu to take him back to the girl.
Msimangu persuades Kumalo to take a few days’ rest while Msimangu goes to Ezenzeleni, a colony for the blind. Kumalo and Msimangu then enjoy a quiet evening at the Mission House with Father Vincent, who listens to Kumalo’s stories of Natal and tells them about his native England. The tranquil evening is shattered, however, when another priest enters with a newspaper whose front page announces the murder of Arthur Jarvis, a white engineer and crusader for the rights of black South Africans. Jarvis, the paper reports, was at home with a cold when intruders knocked out his servant and shot him at close range. The paper states that there are no leads, but police hope the unconscious servant will be able to furnish some information upon awakening. The paper also states that Jarvis was in the midst of writing his treatise on “The Truth About Native Crime” when he was murdered. The article closes by saying that Jarvis leaves behind a widow and two children—a nine-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter.
Kumalo remembers seeing Arthur as a boy, small and bright, with his father—the Jarvis farm overlooks Ndotsheni. He is weighed down by a sudden, inexplicable fear. Msimangu tries to reassure him that the odds of any connection between Absalom and the murder are small, but Kumalo is inconsolable and too tired even to pray.
A speaker notes that no one can enjoy the beauty of South Africa amid so much violence. The speaker adds that throughout the nation, thousands of voices cry out what must be done. This speaker argues that there should be more police, and another speaker argues that if black Africans had more rights, there would be less crime. Some advocate that more schools be built in the black districts, where fewer than half the children go to school, but others say that schooling blacks only produces criminals who are more clever. The pass laws, which require native South Africans to carry permits in white areas, might work, says one man, but his friend counters that these laws can’t be enforced and imprison innocent people. Some argue for greater segregation, others for greater education and opportunities. Disagreement is the only certainty, and the white population lives barricaded behind their fear.
Mrs. Ndlela, whom Msimangu and Kumalo visited earlier in their search for Absalom, tells Msimangu that the police have visited her looking for Absalom and that she referred them to Mrs. Mkize. Before Msimangu can slip out on his own to investigate, however, he runs into Kumalo. He allows Kumalo to come along. The two retrace their search, going first to Mrs. Mkize, then to Shanty Town, and then to the reformatory school, where the young man’s assistant tells them that the young man seems troubled. Their last stop is Alexandra, where Absalom’s girlfriend tells them that the police have visited her but that she does not know why, and a local woman says that the police seemed frustrated. Everyone agrees that the situation looks serious. Kumalo spends more of his precious savings on a taxi, and the two men begin a somber trip to Ezenzeleni.
This section opens with a lyrical meditation on hope and ends with a lyrical litany of despair. At the outset, Kumalo takes strength from his nephew, a serious but affectionate youngster who seems to reconnect Kumalo to his village life. The act of telling the child about his village eases Kumalo’s homesickness and, though he is saddened by the thought of his son, strengthens Kumalo with thoughts of his wife and friends in the village. Kumalo’s interaction with his nephew thus reaffirms Kumalo’s values. But Kumalo faces a gradually worsening picture of Absalom’s situation, and Paton builds our sense of foreboding to match Kumalo’s. The details of Absalom’s situation are teased out as we discover, piece by piece, that he has been in trouble with the law, has impregnated a young girl, and has now disappeared. Each stop on Msimangu and Kumalo’s zigzagging journey brings a new clue. The announcement of Jarvis’s murder seems, at first, to be merely a part of the social landscape. Paton, however, makes it a climactic moment in Kumalo’s quest for knowledge about Absalom, introducing it at just the right point to make us suspect that Absalom is involved with the murder. The narrative structure skillfully leads us to have the same suspicions that Kumalo has.
Arthur Jarvis’s murder demonstrates the terrible ironies of the social disorder that mars the country. Jarvis wishes to help black Africans regain their rights. Presumably, his tract on native crime explains that the solution to the problem lies in greater freedom and opportunity for the black population, not in greater suppression. The tragic irony, then, is the fact that he is murdered by people for whose rights he is fighting. We can assume that his killers are motivated at least in part by the desperation created by the inequities of South African society. Although Jarvis fights these inequities, his attackers perceive him not as an ally but as part of the problem since he is white.
By juxtaposing a number of different white voices in Chapter 12, some of which are sympathetic and some that are profoundly unsympathetic to the black Africans, Paton lays bare the stark differences of opinion that divide the white population. The man who bemoans the lack of adequate education for black children in Johannesburg represents the belief that the white government is responsible for the natives’ problems because it has failed to help empower blacks. The man who worries that more schooling will make blacks smarter criminals, on the other hand, represents the belief that the black population is inherently immoral. Whereas the first man embodies trust in the black population, the second man embodies mistrust of the black population. Those who fall on the side of the second speaker seem oblivious to the challenges facing the black population, and Paton suggests that these whites remain oblivious on purpose because of their fear.