THE AUTHOR – ALAN PATON (1903 – 1988)
James and Eunice Paton, from England, settled in Natal Province,
South Africa and they had a son, Alan born to them on 11th January 1903.
They lived in the city of Pietermaritzburg and their eldest
child, Alan lived a contented childhood, being both active and intelligent.
At the age of twenty-two, Alan commenced a teaching career,
firstly teaching at a native school in the village of Ixopo. He had graduated from the University of Natal where he had shown promise as a poet, but he was not satisfied with his early writings and
these were mainly destroyed by him.
He gave up his teaching career in order to take on the post as Principal at the Diepkloof Reformatory where he attempted to bring more freedom to the oppressive regime at this institution. He was concerned in ensuring that the boys received a proper education in order to prepare them for life outside the Reformatory walls. Dedicated to this area of work, he was determined to find out how such institutions operated outside South Africa and he traveled extensively.
Whilst traveling in Scandinavia, the idea behind the book, ‘Cry,
The Beloved Country’ was born, and he added to this original thought over several years until the final book was published in 1948.
The onset of World War II had curtailed Paton’s reforms for the
Diepkloof Institution, but after the war, Paton started on an ambitious program to revolutionize prisons and reform schools in South Africa.
‘Cry, The Beloved Country’ became popular throughout the English
speaking world, in particular in the United States, where similarities were evident to Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’.
The book was also adapted for the stage and the motion picture industry, the film being released in 1952. Paton wrote various books including ‘Too Late the Phalarope’ published in 1953, ‘The Land and the People of South Africa’ published in 1955, ‘Hope for South Africa’ published in 1959, and ‘Jan Hofmeyr’ a biography of Paton’s friend, the former Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa published in 1965.
Throughout his life Paton showed concern about the political
regime in South Africa and he helped form the Liberal Party and was the Party President for a time. He became more and more outspoken and this led to him being charged with Treason in 1960, and his
Passport was revoked. The Liberal Party was outlawed by the South African Government, which led to its eventual dissolution in 1968.
With others, Paton was involved in the famous Treason Trials alongside Albert Luthule who was the Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg and Nobel Prize-winner. Although the victims of these Trials were eventually set free from prison, Paton was not allowed to travel outside of South Africa for many years.
Throughout his life, Alan Paton spoke out against the injustices
suffered by the Black majority of South Africa.
He died at his home near Durban in 1988.
The Times Obituary said, “His view of his Century became bleaker: he could foresee only a bloodbath. But his Christian faith sustained him; and although criticized by radical elements, he enjoyed widespread respect as a saintly man who was by no means unworldly.”