The white man has broken the tribe. . . . That is why children break the law, and old white people are robbed and beaten.See Important Quotations Explained
The train to Johannesburg travels a full day and night, climbing through many hills and villages. The regions Kumalo passes through are unfamiliar to him, with foreign landscapes and signs written in Afrikaans, which he does not speak. The great mines of South Africa come into view, and Kumalo’s fellow travelers, many of whom are miners, explain how the mines are painstakingly excavated. They point out the great pulley that hoists the broken rocks, and Kumalo is awestruck by the scale of it all. Overwhelmed by the modern surroundings, he keeps mistaking the passing landscape for Johannesburg, but his fellow passengers laugh and tell him of buildings in Johannesburg so tall they can barely describe them.
The train arrives in Johannesburg, where Kumalo moves gingerly through the crowds that swarm throughout the station. Outside the station, the rush of traffic so terrifies Kumalo that he stands petrified on the sidewalk, unable to decipher the traffic lights. Speaking in a language Kumalo does not understand, a young man appears and offers to help Kumalo find his way to Sophiatown.
The young man leads Kumalo to the bus station, where he tells Kumalo to wait in line for the buses while the young man buys him a ticket. Eager to show his trust, Kumalo gives the young man a pound from his precious savings. He begins to suspect that something is wrong, however, as soon as the young man turns the corner. An elderly man takes pity on the helpless Kumalo and informs him that his money has been stolen. When it turns out that they are both headed for Sophiatown, the elderly man invites Kumalo to travel with him. He guides Kumalo safely to Msimangu’s Mission House, where the young Reverend Msimangu opens the door and introduces Kumalo’s companion as Mr. Mafolo. Mr. Mafolo takes his leave as Kumalo, safe at last, enjoys a cigarette and reflects on the days to come.
Msimangu informs Kumalo that he has found a room for him with Mrs. Lithebe, a local churchgoer. Kumalo uses a modern toilet for the first time—in his village, he had heard of these devices, but he had never used one. The two men dine with the other priests, a group that includes both blacks and whites, at the mission. Kumalo speaks sadly and lovingly about his village, and about how both Ixopo and its neighboring villages are falling into ruin. One white rosy-cheeked priest wishes to hear more, but he excuses himself to attend to other affairs. The other priests, in turn, tell Kumalo that all is not well in Johannesburg—white people have become afraid because of a rise in crime. They show him a newspaper headline describing an attack on an elderly white couple. Nor are whites the only victims, they say, and they tell him how an African girl was robbed and almost raped.
After dinner, Msimangu asks Kumalo about Gertrude. Kumalo replies that his sister came to Johannesburg with her child to find her husband. Msimangu regretfully informs him that she now has many husbands—she sells cheap liquor and prostitutes herself in the worst area of Johannesburg. There have been crimes committed at her home, and she has been in prison. Msimangu also tells a distraught Kumalo that Gertrude’s son lives with her, but that her home is no place for a child. Msimangu has heard nothing about Absalom but promises to ask about him. As the sorrowful Kumalo goes to pray, he asks about his brother, and Msimangu informs him that John Kumalo is now a great politician but has little use for the church.
Msimangu explains that he does not hate the white man, in part because a white man “brought [his] father out of darkness” by converting him to Christianity. He confides to Kumalo, nevertheless, that he believes that white people have broken the tribal structure without leaving anything in its place. Msimangu explains that some white men are trying to rebuild the country for all people, but that they are not enough, and are held prisoner by the same fear that rules the rest of the country. He says that Father Vincent, the rosy-cheeked priest at dinner, is the best person to ask about such things. Kumalo retires to his lodgings and marvels that only forty-eight hours ago he had been with his wife.