Kumalo and Msimangu walk the remaining distance as Msimangu explains that in Alexandra, blacks are allowed to own property, but that the town is so crime-ridden that its white neighbors have petitioned to have it destroyed. He tells Kumalo stories of whites being attacked and killed, and ends with the moving story of a black couple’s rescue of a white woman who had been raped and abandoned by a white man. He also says, however, that Alexandra is more good than bad.
Kumalo and Msimangu reach Absalom’s new house, but its owner, Mrs. Mkize, is visibly afraid and will tell them only that Absalom moved a year ago. Kumalo knows that something is wrong, and Msimangu tells him to go on ahead and seek refreshment, then returns to question the woman again. She is too scared to say what she knows, but when Msimangu swears on a Bible to keep her secret safe, she reveals that Absalom and John’s son often came home very late at night with all kinds of money, food, watches, and clothes.
Mrs. Mkize tells him that both boys were friends with a local taxi driver named Hlabeni. Msimangu hires Hlabeni to drive him and Kumalo back to Johannesburg, then asks Hlabeni if he knows Absalom’s whereabouts. Hlabeni, who is scared, admits that the young men now live in a shantytown in the city of Orlando. They drive past crowds of black people resolutely walking instead of taking the bus, while a number of white drivers offer them rides. Msimangu is particularly impressed by the behavior of one white driver who has been pulled over by the police, and he slaps his chest and defiantly echoes the driver’s cry of “take me to court.”
Summary — Chapter 9
A chorus of anonymous voices describes Shanty Town. From all over the land, people pour into the city of Johannesburg. The waiting lists for houses are impossibly long, however, and there is little room in the houses in Alexandra, Sophiatown, and Orlando. Families with homes take in boarders, but the accommodations fill up, often with a dozen people crammed into two rooms. Privacy is scarce, and tempers flare. Some husbands and wives are seduced by their lodgers; others throw tenants out into the street in fits of protective jealousy. A well-placed bribe may secure the right person a home, but there are no guarantees. The money to build housing is tied up because of war in Europe and North Africa.
Dubula’s commands ripple through the masses of the homeless. Building supplies are stolen from the plantations, train stations, and mines. Near Orlando’s railroad tracks, an entire city goes up overnight, made of poles, sacks, and the long grasses of the South African plains. The only cost is a shilling a week to Dubula’s committee. It is crowded and wet in Shanty Town. In the middle of the night, a child burns with fever and dies before a doctor can reach her. Newspapermen come and take pictures, and the state springs into action. New homes are built for the Shanty Town masses, just as Dubula said they would be.
But a new tide of people rushes to set up makeshift homes, and this time the state reacts with anger. The police drive these people back to where they came from. A few remain, watching the new houses that the government is building and waiting for their turn to move in.
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