Read "Cry the Beloved Country" to help understand what Nelson Mandela faced

Of all the words that, for me, help understand what Nelson Mandela faced, the ones that were written all before his imprisonment are found in the acclaimed novel, Cry the Beloved Country.

Here it is well described in SparkNotes:

Although apartheid, South Africa’s infamous system of enforced racial segregation, was not instituted until after the novel’s publication, the South Africa of Cry, the Beloved Country was nevertheless suffering from the Alan Patoneffects of racial segregation, enforced inequality, and prejudice. The crime rate was high, and attacks on whites by black agitators caused panic among the country’s white citizens. Black South Africans found themselves adrift as the traditional tribal cultures gave way to the lure of the cities, and many South Africans were left without any moral or social organization to turn to. Whites held a monopoly on political power, and they did nothing to alleviate the extreme poverty among black South Africans, which in turn led many young black men to crime. The gold mines, which were so vital to South Africa’s economy, depended on cheap black labor to remain profitable, and as a result, the workers were paid barely enough to survive. But those in power inevitably broke up attempts to strike or seek a better wage.

Cry, the Beloved Country is set in this tense and fragile society, where the breathtaking beauty of the nation’s natural landscape is tainted by the fears of its people. And yet, the message of the novel is one of hope. Characters such as Stephen Kumalo, James Jarvis, and Theophilus Msimangu reveal a potential for goodness in humankind, and are able to defuse hatred, overcome fear, and take the first steps necessary for mending a broken nation.

It sure opened my eyes when I read it as an English class assignment in 1957 at the old St. George High in Evanston. It eloquently describes the conditions in South Africa that faced Mandela and all his countrymen and adds a layer of appreciation of the reconciliation that he led that saved his country from utter chaos.

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  • I hadn't thought about that book in years but you're right. It's a classic and sure opened my eyes when I was in High School as well. A compelling tale with an important lesson, I wonder if it's still taught.

  • I read it for Holy Cross Brother John Kuhn at Holy Trinity High about the same time as you did. A beautifully written as well as insightful book.

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