Your brother has no use for the Church any more. He says that what God has not done for South Africa, man must do.
When Kumalo tells Msimangu that John is his brother, Msimangu explains that John is no longer religious. While Kumalo and Msimangu, as well as Arthur Jarvis, see religion as something that can help South Africa, John sees religion as just another way to control black people. Even before introducing John, the narrator indicates that he seems more interested in finding power in the present than equality in the future.
Here in Johannesburg I am a man of some importance, of some influence. I have my own business, and when it is good, I can make ten, twelve, pounds a week.
As John tells Kumalo why he prefers Johannesburg to Ndotsheni, he explains that he can never have power in their village, but in Johannesburg he can make more money and have influence over people. Power and money seem to be John’s only values in life, and as a result he does not use that influence to actually enact change.
Yes, yes, John Kumalo interrupts him, and smiles at him. Who will believe your son? he asks. He says it with meaning, with cruel and pitiless meaning.
Before Absalom’s trial, John tells Kumalo that he plans to hire a lawyer to tell the judge that his son, Matthew, was not present for Arthur’s murder and that no one will believe Absalom when he says otherwise. Like Kumalo, John wants to protect his family, but unlike Kumalo, John is willing to lie and hurt others and go against the rules of Christianity to do so.
Here is the moment for words of passion, for wild indiscriminate words that can waken and madden and unleash. But he knows. He knows the great power that he has, the power of which he is afraid.
During one of John’s speeches, the narrator explains the magnitude of John’s power and how power represents the one thing he fears being taken away from him. Although John seems arrogant and corrupt, he understands that while he has a certain kind of power, white people still have power over him and could take away his importance in an instant.
There are some men who long for martyrdom, there are those who know that to go to prison would bring greatness to them, these are those who would go to prison not caring if it brought greatness or not. But John Kumalo is not one of them. There is no applause in prison.
As the narrator wonders what the listeners during John’s speech will be compelled to do as a reaction to his words, the narrator explains that some of them care enough about the cause to give up their lives and freedom for progress. However, as many impassioned speeches as John gives, he only cares about the attention and power rather than the cause itself.