Cry, The Beloved Country – a remarkable story on race relations

Alan Paton

Race relations are difficult in almost every society  be it in Asia , Africa, Europe or America  but  none have been more pronounced and institutionalized  as it was in South Africa  where under Apartheid or a legalized system of racial segregation, the natives were subject for several decades to the worst forms of discrimination.

It was a reality that was largely ignored, knowingly or un-knowingly by the world at large but  amidst the worsening relations between the White and non White people of South Africa, there were a few brave voices that tried to show the world the true nature of a dangerous system that was taking a hold in that country.  One such voice was that of Alan Paton (1903 – 1988) whose book, Cry, the Beloved Country, first published in 1948 became a landmark novel that explored and exposed the painful nature of race relations in the land of his birth and was an eye opener to many outside South Africa on the conditions faced by non White citizens of the country. Paton used the central characters in his book to give a human face to what was unraveling in South Africa but it took more than four decades after the book was first published for Apartheid to be abolished and for   a real change in race relations to take place.

Cry, The Beloved Country

“Cry, The Beloved Country” (A story of comfort in desolation), revolves around a Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom who is accused of killing an innocent white man. The story also highlights the manner in which non white people have to let go of their dignity and self-respect to survive in their own country and also that the pain of losing a child, a parent, a spouse is non discriminatory whether one is born with black or white skin.

Paton in a note on the 1987 edition of the book revealed how the title of the story came about.  He had given the typescript of his work to be read by two friends and after they finished reading it; they asked the author what he would call it.

“We decided to have a little competition. We each took pen and paper and each of us wrote our proposed title. Each of us wrote,” Cry, The Beloved Country,” Paton disclosed.

The title comes from three or four passages of the book and here is one of them.

“Cry, The Beloved Country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”

It’s a book now termed a classic but more than 60 years after it was first published,” Cry, The Beloved Country” ,  is a story that can be applied in context of troubled race relations in any part of the world. Apartheid may be gone and institutionalized forms of racial discrimination may no longer be there, but racial tensions, discrimination and hatred remains world over.

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