Paton’s main purpose in his book ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ is
to comment on the social standing of the black native Africans and the resulting interface with the ruling minority whites. In order to make his documentary memorable, he incorporates a plot and
characters so as to give the book a universal appeal. To some extent the characters and how they develop in the story is secondary to the changes he feels are necessary in order that South Africa
makes the transition from a Dutch/British colony to an independent State in Africa.
Paton’s viewpoint is from the late 1940’s, but to understand how
the South Africa of this day evolved, it is necessary to understand its history.
The book is geographically centered on Johannesburg in the Natal
Province, which is the homeland of the Zulu nation. There were around 4,000,000 Zulus living in an area of 10,500 sq. miles.
They were a proud and handsome people and before the Europeans arrived, they were the ruling power in this area of Africa. Over the centuries, they evolved an efficient tribal system. They originally occupied Central Africa and migrated south to the more fertile areas of country. Their homeland was first invaded by the Dutch who met fierce resistance, but ultimately they drew back from the unyielding invaders. The British involvement in the area took place in the 1870’s, and again this resulted in various battles and the British eventually overran their reduced homeland. There was still unrest in the area up until 1907 and the Colonists’ control over the Zulus was always fragile.
South Africa was a rich area fought over by the Dutch, British
and Germans, and the Portuguese also ruled Mozambique to the north-east of Natal.
From the European point of view colonization of this area
brought “civilization” to the Zulus and other tribes.
From the Zulu point of view, their position as overlords and
masters of their own land had been taken away from them and they have been reduced to a subservient race for the bulk of the 20th Century.
The Dutch settlers, known as Boers, which means farmers,
occupied 2 independent states in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and inevitably conflict broke out between them and the British, resulting in the Boer Wars, which started in 1899.
In 1910, all the South African territories were united in the
Union of South Africa with a former Boer General, Louis Botha being Prime Minister.
South Africa experienced upheavals in the 20th Century up until the time of this book in 1948.
There was a conflict between the Liberal Parties who wished to
industrialize South Africa bringing in immigrants to help with this development and bring about a more integrated society.
The Nationalist Party opposed this. They wanted to virtually ban any immigration and exert total control over the native population. In the elections of 1948 the Nationalists obtained power with a very narrow majority. Not long after that they began their program of apartheid, which means ‘apartness’ or complete segregation of the races. Citizens were to be segregated into Europeans, the Indian population, the natives and the colored, the latter being a mix of European and native blood.