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.