Cry, the beloved country

Cry, the beloved country

I am sitting down watching the timeless Alan Paton classic, Cry, the Beloved Country, with the Reverend Steven Khumalo played by the venerable James Earl Jones, and the farmer, the elder Jarvis’ part is played by Richard Harris.  It is one of those timeless editions of the story in motion picture, a tale retold of the viscous manners of the so-called phenomenon of many names: karma or fate. Shot in the early part of the newly born post-independence South Africa (of 1994), this edition of ntate Paton’s novel does justice in revealing the metaphysical nature of our existence on earth, that is, the story shows how nature’s trajectories of travel defy human understanding, that they cannot control or pre-plan the occurrence of certain events that have tremendous impact on the inner workings of what we consider or appraise as mighty or as simple.

In the story a vagabond preacher’s son fatally shoots a philanthropist farmer’s son in a botched burglary. The meeting of the two fathers post-mortem forms the gist of the tale, but the deeper circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of the farmer’s son through the hand of the preacher’s son is what takes one’s attention at this point in time.
Written in the pro-reconciliation era of South Africa, the movie captures the spirit of that period and for a while, it seemed what the man now considered the universal stalwart of peace and reconciliation (Nelson Mandela) had envisioned in the stint at Robben island and over the 27 years of his total incarceration in various prisons had finally come to blossom.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in progress back then, and the black and the white and the yellow and the indigo peoples of the newly-born democracy were only getting to walk the talk they had chanted slogans for in the long years of the struggle for freedom.

For Alan Paton to have found such a simple plot based on the concept and the idea of the sleight of hand fate always plays with our lives: the fool can be the crook, and the crook can be the fool, there is just no middle way when humanity is thrown into the qualm of the storm.
One cannot exactly choose their role ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of certain major events.

Being an individual, standing demands a certain understanding of the role one plays in society, and to be strong enough to stand the challenges that come with the assumption of such a role.
Both different coloured men’s sons are lost to death, and the two men have to deal with the task of raising their grandchildren despite their advanced age. It is only after the death of the two old men’s sons that they truly begin to understand the importance of their relationship to foment the true understanding of their proximity.
The long years of apartheid had turned the southern tip of Africa (and perhaps the rest of it) into a hostile place where one sector of society lived in literal palaces in the suburbs and on estates while the other sector lived in hovels in squatter camps, locations, flats, and Bantustans.

The two sectors only met in industry and were divided along racial lines in almost every other sector of society and this led to misunderstanding between the different peoples of the land.
One could work with the boss and never know where the boss’ home was, only luck could see him at the well-furnished suburban house, leading him to temporarily forget about the squalid quarters of his hovel and drool on the pleasantly tickling dreamful wishes of the poor underclass in a magnate’s lavish private quarters.

One man’s son is shot dead, and the other man’s son is hung by the neck until death, and this means that both lose their sons in different ways born under the same fate: racism.
That one is of a different colour or class does not mean that their path in life shall follow a single pattern, that their pattern shall in no way be influenced by the patterns of all the other human beings around one. This is thus the point of reason where saints and sinners dance in tune based on the valorous virtues of those that understand the true tenets of peace and forgiveness.

That the two men’s sons are lost to their fathers as the result of the prevailing circumstances does not however mean that they cannot talk to each other as neighbours, as men, and as fathers.
These two old sons of Ndotsheni manage to bury the hatchet in a series of mythical and religious pilgrimages into the kind of understanding that brings to full-attention the evil that men do by giving in to their most basic of instincts in a world that they both built with their minds, their souls, and their bodies: racism. They have to understand what forgiveness means, what reconciliation really feels like, and in the process of this exercise get to understand each other and themselves clearly and fully as both neighbour and individual.

Cry, the Beloved Country comes across as a simple tale about two fathers losing their sons in a land gone sick from all the ill human thoughts on how society should live together. Hendrik Verwoed believed in separate development, that the only place where black and white could meet was in industry and nowhere else.
Kept alive in those reserved spaces of the locations the shantytowns and the homelands only as a labour reserve and nothing else, the exploits and contribution of the larger population of the land to the course of state and global progress remain largely unacknowledged due to the fact that they are considered subhuman citizens of the land of their forefathers.

These are the people who are seen only as those whose papers attest to their true sense of identity that is thought by the authorities to be on a piece of the Dompas the authorities always demand each time any member of the so called ‘underclass’ walks in town.
The elder Jarvis and the Reverend Khumalo story prove it differently: these two men of different colour mourn at the same tumulus and burial mound and shed tears for their lost sons irrespective of the fact that one’s son killed the other’s son.

It is not the act that is of concern in the novel, but the circumstances that lead to the two men’s sons losing their lives that really matters. The law of the land renders man to man interaction between the peoples of the different races sharing the spaces of the land of Apartheid South Africa, and this means that at the end of the day, the people end up being strangers despite having to share the same basic spaces on a daily basis.

One race is by law considered the upper class die blankes and the other nie blankes, and this means that people cannot look at each on an equal footing, with one or a group of races being subjugated on a perpetual basis while the other race is considered the master class.
The imbalance in the scales works for the benefit of one (just see their streets and their houses) and the detriment of another (just look at the tin mkhukhus that dot the landscape of the shantytowns where the streets have no name).

This means that individuals from each race will find it hard to interact unless there is some matter of profound impact that forces the two sides to interact on an equal basis as human beings, and in the instance of the novel, it is the deaths of the two sons that bring the two races together.
There is rain in the movie, there is so much of it with each encounter that one would start to believe that nature somehow finds a way of cleansing itself of the ills the human race bequeaths upon the land with each passing generation.

Primal nature cannot be changed by man, a creature whose primal nature the decisive Dale Carnegie in his How to Make Friends and Influence People terms as naturally racist. Nature ignores this fact and teaches the ones that bother to look, to listen and to learn that we are all made equal by death the leveller who does not care a whit about the glories of our blood and state.
The priest from a poor parish at a certain point in the story gives shelter to the white farmer in a torrential deluge after the deaths of their sons, and the farmer is somehow appalled by the fact that the church’s roof is leaking to the extent that the reverend Khumalo has to place buckets to prevent the rainwater from damaging the church’s structure.

The spirit of the late philanthropist son of the preacher eggs his father, and there is the birth of the son’s spirit in the father who of course does something about the leaking roof of the church.
At the end of the day, it is in the midst of the storms that the two old men begin to understand the full effect of the evil that the system of governance in the land is in terms of bringing the people together to avoid shameful encounters between the different races that teaches them that they are different when they are in fact similar in more ways than less.
I have never been one to read a story without the confines of the social realities I and other individuals or people are experiencing at a given point in time.
This country has come to a point where the ills of the past have to be excised and the evils thereof exorcised if there is any form of progress intended on the part of the government, but even more importantly, on the part of the masses that elect governments into office.

Polarised by past encounters of the political kind, the mood is in a lot of ways unsavoury, unless one were to pretend that they were the ostrich in a desert storm. We can evade the turn of the sands of time only for a while, but there comes a point in the life of any state where truth must first be told to effect the advent of the reconciliation of those that are divided by past occurrences, the restoration of the human values lost over the course of a divided history, and the recovery of the little that is left which can aid in the mapping out of new routes.
It is a fact that many have died for the cause, and their deaths are not in vain because of the simple fact that they are human, and as the Sesotho adage goes: “human flesh cannot be splayed and staked as one would the hide of the kine.”

It is time to face facts and reform from an equal platform if there are any meaningful changes to be made for the sake of the progress and the future of the land.
Reverend Steven Khumalo goes to the mountain to pray for his son’s soul on the day that the son, Absalom, is hung in the gallows for the murder of Arthur Trevelyan Jarvis. Alone as Moses on Mount Horeb, one would believe that solitude somehow connects one and brings them closer to their God, and the old priest performs a continuing ritual of spiritual cleansing as he has over the long years of service in the clergy.

The mountain offers enough of the solitude to make a man realise how miniscule he is despite the tremendous power vested in him by God.
The nature and the height of the mountain forces one to realise that one can change their world if they really work hard at connecting peacefully with all the nature and the individuals around them.
What of the mountain men and women of the Kingdom in the Sky who seem to find it hard to face the truth and get on with the prayers to effect change and a better future for the land?
I guess the parly games should stop and people should start discerning the real concerns of the land from issues of personal interest for the sake of the welfare and the future of the larger part of the populace waiting hopefully that this will turn out to be a different political era in the past 50-plus years of independence.

The tale of one individual is the tale of many individuals, for that one individual is connected with the rest of the other individuals that live in close proximity or are some distance away.
What I fail to understand is how there can be so many glaring and living examples of how reconciliation was achieved that are so close that we pretend actually never happened.
South Africa somehow got out of the dross of Apartheid, it is a younger democracy than we in Lesotho are, but they are trying to make their newly found independence work to their best interest whilst we sing Cry, the Beloved Country.

Why should we when are in fact more similar in terms of tribe and race than our neighbours? Sigh.

By: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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