OTHER RESEARCH AWAITING PUBLICATION:
- “The Corruption of Indigenous African Culture through the Use of English: An
Assessment of Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born,” for the
5th Department of English International Conference, University of Botswana,
Gaborone, June 2-4, 2009.
- “Black Creativity and the Limitations of Slavery: William Wells Brown’s Clotel or The President's Daughter,
Linda Brent’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin,”
(Originally intended for the John Carter Brown Library in Rhode Island, USA).
- “Religion as a Negative and Non Sustaining Weapon in James Baldwin’s
Just Above My Head and Richard Wright’s Black Boy” (1992).
- “Literature and Revolution: A Study of Sembene Ousmane’s God’s Bits of Wood” (1991).
- “French Assimilation and the African: A Study of Ferdinand
Oyono’s Houseboy and The Old Man and the Medal” (1990).
- “The Muse’s Ruminations – A Collection of Poems” (1986-1990).
- “The Theme of Rootlessness in Four Works by Two South African Novelists –
Peter Abrahams and Alex La Guma” (B. A. Research / Graduating Project 1987, University of Calabar.)
Francis Ibe MOGU's B.A. Graduating Essay - May/June 1987 -
THE TITLE IS:
THE THEME OF ROOTLESSNESS IN MINE BOY AND TELL FREEDOM BY
A WALK IN THE NIGHT AND IN THE FOG OF THE SEASON’S END BY ALEX LA
SUBMITTED TO THE
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH AND
UNIVERSITY OF CALABAR,
CALABAR – NIGERIA
MOGU, FRANCIS IBE
REG. NO. 83/11046
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE AWARD OF THE
BACHELOR OF ARTS DEGREE IN ENGLISH AND LITERARY STUDIES
This thesis is approved for the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Calabar, Calabar.
1. SUPERVISOR…… READER
DR (MRS) EBELE EKO ………………….
2. HEAD OF DEPARTMENT EXTERNAL EXAMINER
PROFESSOR CHIDI IKONNE …………………………..
To the Memory of my departed Parents: Mr Simon Patrick Ijing Mogu, Sr. and Mrs Julia Maria Nkom
Mogu, Sr. May their Souls rest in peace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, Amen!
The research is also for Aunty Ebele Eko, Emem Udofia and all the Lecturers and Students in the Department
of English and Literary Studies who have in the past four years been moulding me.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TITLE PAGE 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS 4
THESIS STATEMENT 7
The Themes of Rootlessness in Mine Boy and A Walk in the Night 14-21
Manifestations of Rootlessness in Tell Freedom and In the Fog of the Season's End. 23-29
CHAPTER THREE - CONCLUSION 30
I am deeply grateful to the following people for their help throughout my stay in Unical and especially in the
writing of this thesis: Dr (Mrs) Ebele Eko, Mr and Mrs Francis Ganyi, Professor Chidi Ikonne, Mrs. Rukmini
Vanamali, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Imo Eshiet, Ajayi Folurunsho, Dickson Ukegbu, Dr. (Mrs.) Emelia Oko and
those who in one way or the other made it possible for me to complete my Degree Programme, especially my
late parents, my brother Vincent and my sister, Helen.
In addition, I want to thank the following people for their moral support: Mike Ejims, Martins Amaechi, James
Eban Ngaji, Emma Okah, Afam Nwokedi, Thomas Afanga Wodar, Patrick Igbaji, Mike Umole, John Oyolola,
Mike Obi, Ndoma, Enobong, Julius Ashandipeheye Adie, Mrs. Julia Omang and Miss Emem Udofia. I cherish
them all and may God Almighty be with them forever.
This essay takes a closer look at the manifestations of rootlessness in four works from South Africa. These
works are a microcosm of the Society in South Africa – South Africa as seen by Peter Abrahams and Alex la
Guma. Rootlessness as a phenomenon, is caused by the inhuman policy of apartheid entrenched by Boers
(Afrikaners) in South Africa.
The essay is an effort at a comparative study of the theme of rootlessness in Abrahams’ Mine Boy and Tell
Freedom, and La Guma’s AWalk in the Night and In the Fog of the Season’s End.
The introduction to the essay examines the phenomenon known as ‘rootlessness’ and links it to its root cause.
It also examines briefly the lives of the authors and the subject matter i.e. rootlessness caused by apartheid.
The second chapter analyses the manifestations of rootlessnes in Tell Freedom and In the Fog of the Season's
End. The emphasis on both Chapters is on the characters and situations in the texts.
Chapter Three is the Conclusion. It summarizes what has already been said in the preceding chapters and
joins Abrahams and La Guma in recommending a solution to the phenomenon of rootlessness in South Africa –
the abolition of apartheid, recognition of true equality among all races and the building of a free society based
on people without emphasis on skin colour.
APARTHEID CAUSES SOUTH AFRICANS TO BECOME EXILES IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
Rootlessness means the lack of a base for existence. It is a situation where one cannot fit oneself into a
historical, cultural, economic and political setting among people in a given society. Under this phenomenon,
one’s life is regimented from birth to death. The situation in South Africa serves as an ideal example of
rootlessness. Blacks and other non-whites are affected most by this trend. Rootlessness forms the core of
apartheid: the system of racial discrimination that upholds white supremacy to all other races in South Africa.
Rootlessness is manifested in the prevalent lack of a proper identity among South African non-whites.
Namelessness prevails under this trend. Rootlessness is also manifested in the forced removal of people to
barren areas known as ‘home lands’. ‘Home lands’ in South Africa include Transkei, Ciskei and
Writers as Athol Fugard have mirrored the rootless phenomenon in their writing, although none of these
writers based their research on the theme of rootlessness in the works of Peter Abrahams and Alex la Guma.
In Sizwe Bansi is Dead, Fugard depicts this crippling phenomenon. The characters are identified by numbers
instead of names. Hence, Sizwe Bansi – the protagonist, easily replaces his expired pass book with the one
belonging to a dead man – Robert Zwelinzima, without any repercussions. Bansi runs away from his home town
in search of a better life elsewhere. All these are manifestations of rootlessness.¹
Rootlessness makes Blacks to feel like strangers in South Africa – their fatherland. The estrangement in turn
manifests itself in the Violent response to the situations by Blacks and other non-Whites. A large number of
non-White writers have gone to exile, including Dennis Brutus, Bessie Head, Lewis Nkosi and the two authors
whose works are being reviewed – Peter Abrahams and Alex La Guma.
The rootlessness phenomenon also manifests itself in other forms such as frustration, drug-addiction and
death through suicide. Bessie Head took to excessive drinking, while Arthur Nortje and Nat Nakasa
Man has ceased to be
Man has become beast
Man has become prey…
Where is my refuge?
Where am I safe? ³
These lines from Oswald Mtshali’s poem “Nightfall in Soweto”, sum up the situation governed by
rootlessness in South Africa – a situation where human beings are exposed to untold abuses and hardships.
Another poem, “Taken for a Ride”, by Stanley Motjuwadi, also describes the terror and fear that underlie the
existence of Blacks in South Africa as a result of apartheid which has uprooted them from their soil. The
relevant lines for the purpose of this essay are reproduced here:
I get my cue
From the glint in the cop’s eye…
So I have to find it.
Without it I’m lost, with it I’m lost
I hate it. I nurse it,
My pass, my everything.
The doors of the Kwela-Kwela gape,
…like Jonah’s whale.
I take a free ride4
Apartheid reduces the average Black man in South Africa to a non-entity; ‘a figure’ to be molested and
harassed by White men and the police. The system is enhanced by the use of the PASS – a type of document
that contains the identity of a person and restricts his movement to certain areas. PASSES make it easier for
the police to control and monitor the activities of Black people. A PASS diminishes the identity of the
possessor as it emphasizes number instead of names. Failure to Produce a PASS on demand by law
enforcement agents leads one to prison. This is illustrated in the poem above by Motjuwadi.
Samuel Omo Asein has written about the revolutionary vision in Alex la Guma’s novels5. Similarly, Robert
Green wrote about politics of subversion in La Guma’s In the Fog of the Season’s End. He also wrote an
introduction to La Guma’s short stories6. Another critic, Abdul Jan Mohamed wrote about the literary and
political functions of marginality in the colonial situation, using La Guma’s as a case study7. Kolawole
Ogungbesan on the other hand, focused his analysis on the works of Peter Abrahams, with a view to
portraying the guiding consciousness behind the works and the rationale behind the author’s exit from South
Africa8. Michael Wade’s enquiry dwells on the social situation in the novels of Abrahams9. None of these
critics’ research focuses on ‘the theme of rootlessness’ in either the works of Peter Abrahams or Alex La
Guma. Consequently, this analysis is of great significance because of the theme’s far-reaching effect on
people in South Africa. Rootlessness is a uniting theme in all the texts being considered in this essay.
Characters in the four works examined here manifest the rootless phenomenon.
The research compares scenes and characters from the works of Abrahams and La Guma being considered. It
is based on the rootless phenomenon among South Africans because of Uniqueness of the theme to the
individual man. The analysis of this theme is also a way of joining in the struggle to dismantle apartheid in
South Africa. The exploration in the essay though limited to situations and characters in texts, and though
literary in outlook, has sociological importance. This is so because what is narrated and portrayed in these
works is not limited to fiction. It is related to real life situations in South Africa. As a matter of fact, one of the
texts for this research, Tell Freedom, mirrors Peter Abrahams’ childhood upbringing in South Africa.
Moreover, rootlessness resulting from racial discrimination has existed in places such as the United States,
Britain and the Caribbeans, but it is only in South Africa that this discrimination is recognized and enforced by
law10. This then makes the South African situation – and indeed, this theme, unique.
The uprooting of Blacks from their environment will be examined at various levels, such as the physical,
psychological and symbolic.
The forced removal and settlement of Blacks in ‘homelands’ and slums, forms an aspect of physical
rootlessness. The indoctrination of Black people into myths of white supremacy, the relegation of the Black
culture and the concept of ‘Black inferior’, fall into the category of psychological uprootness. Similarly,
characters and situations in the works being examined in this research are a symbolic representation of the
uprooted peoples of South Africa
A proper perusal of the works that form the basis of this research shows that the various cultures that exist in
South Africa fragmented. There is no common and complete culture. Moreover, there is a constrained attempt
by Whites to impose their own culture on other races.
The race problem which causes rootlessness in the land, forms the theme in the writing of most South African
authors. Abrahams and La Guma have this them as their centre piece. By aligning themselves to the problems
facing their country South African authors tend to follow Frantz Fanon’s prescription that a writer should
identify with the problems of his society11. Echoing Fanon, La Guma asserts that: “Literature cannot be
divorced from the realities of a writer’s life and environment”12.
Abrahams believes in ‘westernization’ as the solution to the race problem in his country. He sees
“Westernization as the only valid destiny open to Africans in their quest for true freedom of the spirit”13.
This, however, is opposed to La Guma’s prescription of violent revolutionary struggle to end apartheid and
achieve political freedom. La Guma says:
Step by step our people must acquire both
the techniques of war and the means for such
a war. It is not only the advanced ones, but
the entire people that must be prepared,
Peter Abrahams was born in Vrededorp – Johannesburg Suburb, in 1919. He lost his father at an early age,
and his mother had to fend fir him and the other children. His mother was ‘Coloured’ – a descendant of the
early contact between Blacks and Whites in the Cape area of South Africa. His father’s lineage is traced to
the Ethiopian imperial dynasty. As a result of problems posed by apartheid, Abrahams left South Africa at the
age of twenty. Since then, he has returned there only once to do a documentary report for the British
Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.). Much of his life has been spent writing. His vision of ‘man without colour’
is reflected in his writing. He has lived in exile since he left South Africa15.
Alex La Guma was born in 1925 in Cape Town, to ‘Coloured’ parents. He joined the banned South African
communist party early in his life. His father, Jimmy La Guma, was a member of the central committee of the
communist party which was banned in 1950. Even before he started writing, Alex La Guma was an activist who
believed in equality among the races. He also believed in justice, equity and fairplay irrespective of the colour,
race or position among people. He was imprisoned various times, nobably as a defendant in the South African
Treason Trial of the early 1960s. After his release in 1966, he left for exile in Britain and later moved to Cuba,
where he died in 198516.
The commonest characteristics shared by Abrahams and La Guma include the fact that they are ‘oloureds’.
Both of them are also writers who share a similar yearning for the abolition of apartheid, although their
approach differs. Whereas La Guma is a revolutionary writer who went to prison and upon his release, and
exit from South Africa said:
I, as a South African writer am prepared
to run guns and to hold up radio stations,
because in South Africa that is what we are
faced with, whether we are writers or whether
we are common labourers17,
Abrahams never went to prison and is not as revolutionary as La Guma in his writing.
Abrahams and La Guma have both been uprooted from South Africa and they are exiles abroad. They have
been uprooted not only in the physical, but also in the psychological sense. On the physical level, both of them
left South Africa to sojourn abroad. Psychologically, while abroad, both of them still had nostalgic feelings
towards South Africa, hence they joined in the struggle to end apartheid. Socially they could not relate
themselves to their peers in South Africa because of the gap created by their long stay in exile. In the
countries where they were sojourning, Abrahams and La Guma also feel alienated and rootless because of
their patriotism towards South Africa – their home.
Critics have accused Abrahams and La Guma of not being of African or European descent as a result of their
being ‘coloureds’. ‘Coloureds’ in South Africa fall into the category of people that suffer dual discrimination.
They are discriminated against Whites as well s by Blacks. But this in itself, is apartheid being manifested.
‘Coloured’ people have also been uprooted by the apartheid syndrome in South Africa. They have been
uprooted in the sense that they cannot trace a straight line of ancestry either to Africa or to Europe. Apartheid
regulations mar efforts to research into their past.
Other critics assert that since Abrahams and La Guma are ‘coloureds’ and therefore exempt from the rigid
application of apartheid regulations, they see no reason why these writers should voice dissent and resentment
to the system, pointing out that they are ill-equipped for their crusade as a result of their stay in exile. But
these are essentially pro-apartheid critics18.
This paper aims therefore to show that rootlessness in South Africa is caused by the obnoxious system of
apartheid – a system which turns South Africa citizens into exiles and aliens in their own country.
Although the brunt of the sorrow and deprivation resulting from apartheid is borne by black people other races
are not left out of this human tragedy. ‘Coloureds’ and Indians are also affected by the system. Even the
Whites, who oppress, cannot escape from the backlash of apartheid. They too have in a sense become
‘rootless’ because of their fear and uneasiness. The violence embroiling South Africa is not leaving out whites
only. As a result, their hope of a full, useful existence in South Africa, is increasingly, being aborted. Alf
Wannerburg (a South African writer) says in his “Echoes”, that “whites fear us because they are ignorant of
NOTES TO THE INTRODUCTION
1Ebele Eko, Lecture Notes on Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead (UNICAL, 1987).
2Christopher Heywood (ed.) Aspects of South African Literature (London: Heinemann Educational Books
Ltd, 1976) PP. 89-155.
3Senanu and Vincent, A Selection of African Poetry (London: Longman Group Ltd, 1976), P. 196.
4Ebele Eko, Handouts on selected Poems from South Africa in the‘South African Literature Course’
(UNICAL 1987), P.1.
5Samuel Omo Asein, “The Revolutionary vision in Alex La Guma’s Novels”, in LOTUS No.24/25 – 2-3/75
(Cairo: Permanent Bureau of Afro-Asian writers, April - Sept, 1975), P. 3.
6 Robert Green, “Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of the Season’s End: The Politics of Subversion,” in UMOJA,
No.3 (Summer, 1979).
7Abdul R. Jan Mohamed,“Alex La Guma: The Literary and Political Functions of Marginality in the Colonial
Situation”, in BOUNDARY 11 (1-2) 1982-3.
8Kolawole Ogungbesan, The Writing of Peter Abrahams (London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1979), P.3.
9Michael Wade, “The Novels of Peter Abrahams”, in CRITIQUE, X1-3 (December 1968) PP. 54-60.
10Heywood, PP.85 - 97.
11Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Mac Gibbon and Kee, 1965), P. 87.
12Omo Asein, P. 10.
13 Ogungbesan, P. 3.
14 Omo Asein, P. 10.
15 Ogungbesan, PP. 1-2.
16 Jan Mohamed, PP. 272-3.
17 Omo Asein, P. 10
18 Ebele Eko, Lectures on South African Literature (UNICAL, 1987).
19 Richard Rive (ed.) QUARTET (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1974) P. 53.
THE THEME OF ROOTLESSNESS IN MINE BOY AND A WALK IN THE NIGHT
I am thy father’s spirit;
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away¹.
This quotation, taken from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, serves as the preamble to Alex La Guma’s A
Walk in the Night. It also depicts in a few words, the state of rootlesness that governs the South Africans
Situation today. Therefore, the quotation, though not meant originally for South Africa, is permanent to a full
and proper understanding of this essay. The massage of the quotation is central to the events in A Walk in the
Night, Mine Boy and indeed, the other texts billed for analysis in this essay.
In Mine Boy, Xuma the central character leaves his parents, relations and village in the North and goes to
Sojourn in the City. By this singular act, he abandons his roots and becomes rootless in the City. He discovers
to his displeasure that in the City everybody goes about his business.
Nobody cares about what you do so long as it does not affect him. There is
scarcely any communal feelings, especially when compared to what exists in the rural environment. Xuma’s
identity as a person who is mature and capable of managing his own affairs is lost as soon as he comes to the
city. He is just referred to as ‘Xuma’ and no more. We are not told his parents’ names. He becomes
completely absorbed with life in the city and rarely thinks about his village in ‘the North’. Xuma’s first
encounter with the police shows him how rootless he has become: he believes in his innocence, and when told
to run, refuses, adding, “but we have done nothing”². He does not realize that under apartheid laws it is not
necessary for one to commit a crime before he is brutalised, arrested and imprisoned.
In order to stave the trend of rootlessness, Xuma asserts himself in every endeavor he finds himself in. He
exhibits strength and purposeful leadership in the mines where he is made ‘Boss Boy’ or ‘GANG LEADER’
for his boss Mr Paddy O’shea – ‘the Red One’. In spite of these attempts however, luck is against Xuma. His
attempt to befriend and marry a decent and educated girl proves to be abortive because she desires the things
of the white man which Xuma cannot provide for her.
Rootlessness as a phenomenon is not confined to individuals; the environment is also rootless as is manifested
in A Walk in the Night and Mine Boy. The urban environment, as mirrored in these works, is rootless and
superficial. The first few paragraphs of A Walk in the Night, evoke the chaos of the streets of Cape Town as
Michael Adonis alights from the train which has brought him from his work place:
The young man dropped from the trackless
tram… ignoring the stream of late-afternoon
traffic rolling in from the Suburbs,
bobbed and ducked the cars and buses, the
big, rumbling delivery trucks, deaf to the
shouts, and curses of the drivers … He
looked right through them, refusing to see
them …Around him the buzz and hum of
voices and the growl of traffic blended into
one solid mutter of sound which he only half
heard, his thoughts …³
Adonis, the central character in this story is returning from his workplace where he has been ‘fired’ for
‘answering’ back to a white man. Prompted by Willieboy – another major character in the story, Michael
“Strolling again. Got pushed out of my
job at the factory --- Answered back to
an effing white rooker. Foreman”4.
As Adonis is fired from his workplace becomes rootless. He now has nowhere to go and earn a living and, out
of frustration he kills ‘Uncle’ Doughty – the Irish entertainer. Later he joins bad company – Foxy’s gang.
Adonis’ action result from the generic nature of race – relations which allow the individual to exist as a non-
entity and a figure with an unfulfilled and crippling life. In the general manner of the trend of rootlessness,
Adonis joins Foxy’s gang to fill the position left vacant by ‘Sockies’ without any significant alterations in the
original intention or function of the act of robbery planned for the evening. In addition, Adonis kills Doughty,
and instead willieboy is taken for the murderer without any fuss – the result of the crisis of identity and the
loss of individuality.
The people portrayed in this novella appear to be robots being manipulated by other people for the realization
of mean, selfish goals. Abdul Jan Mohamed in his analysis of Alex La Guma‘s works, indicates that – “the
external world (in A Walk in the Night)
is felt to be alienated from human activity
- society is viewed as a static, if
oppressive, thing in itself. Human will and
initiative have been crushed”5.
The society mirrored here has brought about a radical shrinking of human potentiality, and this is reflected in
the way the characters respond to situations: Michael Adonis vents his anger on a wrong person for his
wrongful dismissal from work. Willieboy runs away in panic and is later believed to be the murderer of
Doughty. He is later shot by a white policeman in irrelevant revenge on his troublesome wife. Here, indeed, is
a collection of accidents and mistaken identities.
In discussing the issue of rootlessness, Kolawole Ogungbesan states in his The writing of Peter Abrahams,
“Each black character in Mine Boy needs his
full name. By bestowing on each of them
only one name, Abrahams wants to emphasise
that individuality is denied to the Blacks in
South Africa, that these characters are but
representatives of millions of their race”6.
Hence, we find Daddy – one of the elderly characters we meet in Mine Boy, groping about in search of his
identity. In his youth, Daddy was an ideal and desirable person, but in old age he becomes barely tolerable – a
representative of thousands of blackmen who come to the city to find money and the ‘good life’, but end in
abject poverty and squalor. The city destroys his greatest potentials and becomes “an incurable alcoholic who
goes mad when denied a drink, and sleeps in his own urine”7. It is only after his death that ‘Daddy’
successfully obtained what he had been searching for all his life – his identity. At the head of his grave was put
a little cross, with a number under which was written his name: FRANCIS NDABULA. Daddy’s experiences
in Mine Boy can be paralled to ‘Uncle’ Doughty’s experiences I A Walk in the Night. Like ‘Daddy’,’ Uncle’
Doughty drank to drown his sorrows and to escape from the unpleasant reality. Both ‘Daddy’ and ‘’Doughty’
exhibited great potentials in their youth. Doughty performed as an entertainer and an actor in England and
Australia. Similarly, ‘Daddy’ was strong, rich, feared, respected and had many friends when he first came to
the city. As Ma Plank recounts at Daddy’s funeral:
When he walked down the street women stopped
and looked at him and men greeted him.
Everyone respected his wisdom. And they came
to him when they were in trouble and he
helped them. Even the white ones respected
him-He had money then, and many friends.
Men thought it an honour to be his friend
and women longed for him. And when there
was trouble about the PASSES he stood at
the head of the people and he spoke to
hundreds of them and the police feared him”8.
Daddy and Doughty later became drunkards, alienated, and died through similar circumstances: accidents.
Daddy was killed by a car. Doughty was inadvertently killed by a drunk and frustrated Michael Adonis. Both
of them achieved popularity and attained recognition or identity only at death. Their true identity was restored
to them at death. Prior to their death, everyone seemed to have ignored them to the dictates of the
In Mine Boy also, we meet a very strong and energetic woman, Leah. Her rootless situation is spelt out in
clear but sober tones. The society she lives in (the city) destroys her original humanity. However, she still
possesses basic human kindness. Xuma’s first encounter with her shows this aspect of Leah. Her sojourn in
the city and its destructive impact on her can be compared to Hazel’s experience in A Walk in the Night.
Hazel gave one “the impression of something expensive abandon on a junk heap”9. Hazel is completely
uprooted by the city. She is not educated, but aspires after things meant for ‘educated whites’. She smears
lipstick in an unguarded and excess manner, “so that it looked stark as a wound in her face”10A. Hazel cannot
find a genuine lover. She attempts to fill this gap by frequenting ‘metro’ (theatre) to watch films such as “Love
me Tonight”. Similarly, Leah in Mine Boy cannot maintain a firm and lasting affair with a man. She keeps
Dladla because “a woman gets lonely for a plaything10B”. She also discourages Xuma from cultivating an
affair with her. Leah’s inability to cultivate a strong love relationship with a man is reflected in her
stepdaughter, Eliza. Eliza is completely uprooted from her society. She is also alienated. Leah tells Xuma that
Eliza is suffering from the ‘sickness of the city’. Eliza is educated and knows exactly what is wrong with her.
She explains this ‘sickness’ to be something out of control and tells Xuma:
“I am no good--- it is because I want the
things of the white people --- I want to
be like they are, you understand Xuma¹¹”.
Eliza does not belong to the white world to which she aspires because of her colour.
Neither can she fit into the Black world because of her attitude. So, she is completely uprooted from her
society. Her beauty and her education mean that her aspirations are higher than those permitted by the colour
situation in her country. Her alienation can be likened to that of Joe – the beach comber in A Walk in the
Night. Joe likes the beach, but the apartheid laws make it increasingly difficult for him to stroll along the
beach in the daytime, so he has to sneak there only at night to refresh himself and with some luck, catch crabs,
snails, shrimps and fish:
“Somewhere the young man, Joe, made his way
towards the sea, walking alone through the
starlit darkness --- he would be close to
the smell of the ocean and wade through the
chill, comforting water---”¹².
Joe is a symbol of acute rootlessness. He has nobody to care for him. His father ran away, leaving him and the
other children to their poor mother. They were later ejected from their lodgings and after this incident, Joe ran
away from the rest of the family and survived on breaking rocks for sale and catching snails and shrimps for
food. He also begged from other people “from door to door for pieces of stale bread”¹³ in order to survive.
Members of Foxy’s gang earned a living through Violence. When we first meet them in A Walk, they are
planning a robbery. Instead of normal names, they have American gangster names such as ‘Foxy’, ‘Sockies’,
‘Toyer’, ‘the scarfaced boy’, ‘the boy with the skull – and – crossbones ring’; names that are suggestive of
Pirates at Sea, wild animals and rogues. These young burglars are symbolic of the vast majority of uprooted
people who have no past and no future in South Africa: they live for the present only. By their nature they are
not harmful but the society has turned them into what they have become – rogues. The conditions surrounding
their existence which make it impossible for them to have the bare necessities of life forced them to adopt
violence as a means for survival.
The South African white minority government promotes violence through its harsh and discriminatory policies,
and these in turn uproot and alienate the inhabitants from the surroundings. The police and the military are
harnessed to the full to suppress non whites. Violence and police brutality which form the main avenues for
uprooting and brutalising people under apartheid laws, form a coherent and consistent theme in Mine Boy and
A Walk in the Night. The police assume a supernatural dimension in both works.
They are always available to arrest and detain opponents of apartheid. The works depict that more often, the
police arrest and punish the wrong people – people who are innocent of the offence in question, like Willieboy
in A Walk, and Xuma in Mine Boy. The pursuit of Xuma mounted by the police at the scene of the fight
between two coloured men in Mine Boy parallels to the meticulous and untiring pursuit and subsequent arrest
also by the police, of Willieboy in A Walk. The total devotion of the police to the implementation of apartheid
laws turn the inhabitants into “the prey; the quarry to be run down by the marauding beast let loose by cruel
nightfall from his cage of death”14. The portrayal of the police brutality and the violence brought about by
apartheid by Abrahams and La Guma, makes these two works “the fullest, harshest picture of the miseries of
urban life, the grim marriage of Urban impersonality with totalitarian repression for the poor in South Africa”
In their pursuit and arrest of Willieboy the police exhibited the highest form of injustice and brutality, so that,
after locking him in the van, they stopped over for some refreshment at a café, urged on by Constable Raalt:
‘Pull up at the Portuguese, will you? I want to get some smokes’.
‘Jesus, man’, the driver said. ‘We haven’t
got time to get cigarettes. We’ve got to get
this jong to the station’.
‘Ach, there’s lots of time, man. That
bastard isn’t going to die yet. These
hotnots are tough. Stop at the café, man”16.
In the van meanwhile, Willieboy was writhing in agony and was gradually approaching the point of death:
“He reached down to where the pain was worst
and felt the stickiness of his clothes and then
the bleeding mouth of the wound where the
bullet had torn through him --- his fingers
and hands seemed to have thickened and begun
to lose all sense of feeling --- (His eyes)
remained opened although he could no longer
Willieboy later died as a result of the delay in the cafe by the policemen conveying him to the station. He was
already dead before they arrived at the station.
In Mine Boy, violence and police brutality is manifested in the miners’ protest against mine conditions which
resulted to accidents and deaths. The miners have been uprooted from their places of origin and they came to
the mine to dig all the gold that helped to enrich whites. In the process they lost their identity, their families
and dependants were banned from joining them in the mines, they lived in very deplorable conditions – they
were completely rootless. Yet, when they rose up to demand for better conditions of service after an accident
in the mines which had claimed the lives of some miners, the police stepped in to unleash havoc and violence:
“Two pick – up vans swept into the mine yard
and policemen swarmed out of them--- Xuma saw
a policeman strike paddy across the back of the
neck while another grabbed his arms and twisted
them behind him—something stung his left
shoulder and made his left arm limp with
pain--- He felt a blow at the back of his
head and a trickle of warm blood running
down his shirt”18.
The mine owner did not sympathise with the miners in their yearnings for better working conditions, so that,
after this incident, the miners lost their jobs. And here we see the phenomenon of rootlessness manifesting
itself. The loss of their jobs in the mine means that the miners have lost their means of livelihood – and by
extension their dependants have nobody to depend on for survival.
Acute rootlessness is also reflected in people like J.P. Williamson (Johannes) in Mine Boy and Franky
Lorenzo in A Walk. These are characters that held much promise for prosperous and bright future, but who
were limited and uprooted by their society and the environment. J.P. Williams in a sober mood, was quiet
gentle and hard working young man. The crippling and limiting nature of the environment caused Johannes to
resort to drinking and cursing. He worked hard, but in spite of this he failed to live a fulfilling and happy life.
He could not marry and raise a family. In addition he could not even save enough money to meet his basic
needs and he resorted to frequent borrowing. He later died in a mine accident and was buried without rites like
a dog. Xuma his friend and the other miners were even denied the chance to attend his funeral. To crown the
situation, the mine owners did not care to give any form of pension and gratuity to Johannes’ beneficiaries
such as his girl friend Lena.
Franky Lorenzo was also a very hard-working man. He lived in a tenement room with his wife and six children.
Inspite of his hardwork, Lorenzo was not paid commensurately. His energy and sweat was wasted on ventures
that benefited only whites. He worked in a coal mine:
“ The lines in his face, around the mobile
mouth, and under the dark, deepsocketed eyes
were full of old coal dust which he had
never succeeded in washing away---His hands
clasped behind his head now, were hard and
horny and calloused from wielding a shovel
---His wife, had, a few minutes earlier,
announced that she was once more pregnant
and he was trying to decide whether it was
goodnews or bad news19.
News of pregnancy from your wife should normally make you happy, but Franky Lorenzo was undecided here
because of the poverty impose upon him by apartheid – a policy which crippled his potentials by over-tasking
and exploiting him, yet forcing him and his family to live in one room, packed together like sardines in a tin or
like rats in a hole.
Roootlessness affects the situation mirrored in the works, and a look at the two novels shows the reader that
this situation is abnormal. The atmosphere in the two works is characterised by constant fear, violence, hunger
and oppression. The people we meet in Mine Boy and A Walk have generally been dehumanized. Instead of
basic humanity, we have animalistic response to situations by these people. Adonis kills Doughty like a
cockroach or mosquito, but inadvertently. The police kill Willieboy through violence without really finding out
whether he is guilty of the crime of murder. In the same way, the police beat up the revolting miners without
finding out the cause of their revolt.
NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE
1Alex La Guma, A Walk in the Night (London: Heinemann Educational Ltd, 1968), P. viii. All subsequent
quotes from the text are to this edition.
2Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (London: Heinemann Educational Ltd, 1963), P. 16. All subsequent quotes from
the text are to this edition.
3Robert Green,“Chopin in the Getto: The Short stories of Alex La Guma” in W.L.W.E. PP. 14-15.
4La Guma, P. 4
5Abdul R. Jan Mohamed, “Alex La Guma: The Literary and Political Functions of Marginality”,
BOUNDARY 11 (1-2), 1982-3, PP. 277-8.
6Kolawole Ogungbesan, The Writing of Peter Abrahams (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), P. 41.
7Ogungbesan, P. 40.
8 Abrahams, PP. 80-1.
9LA Guma, P.22.
10ALa Guma, P. 22.
10BOgungbesan, P. 41.
11Ogungbesan, P. 42.
12La Guma, P. 96.
13La Guma, P. 69.
14Senanu and Vincent, ed., A Selection of African Poetry (London: Longman Group Ltd, 1976), P. 196.
15Green, P. 15.
16La Guma, P. 91.
17La Guma, PP. 91-4
18Abrahams, P. 182.
19La Guma, P. 35.
MANIFESTATIONS OF ROOTLESSNESS IN TELL FREEDOM AND IN THE FOG OF THE
The two texts being used for the purpose of this chapter differ in one major aspect, but the theme of
rootlessness is central to both works. Tell Freedom as an autobiography is not a novel, whereas, In the Fog of
the Season’s End, is a novel. Tell freedom narrates the story of the early life of its author, Peter Abrahams, in
South Africa. It is a factual account of the various encounters that Abrahams met with in South Africa and
which helped greatly to shape his vision about human relationship, especially as characterized by apartheid in
his home country, South Africa.
In the Fog if the Season’s End, falls into the category of the other two works also being analysed in this essay.
These other two works are Mine Boy and A Walk in the Night. In the Fog of the Season’s End, “examines the
nature of political commitment and its converse, political disengagement”¹. It seeks to understand why one
man is prepared to sacrifice himself and his family in the service of resistance, while another, living in identical
circumstances, is able to stand aside, stomaching injustice and discrimination. “The various responses
possible towards a totalitarian regime, ranging from martyrdom at one end to a political hedonism at the other,
constitute the structure of the work”².
Although the action moves to areas like the Elsburg location, Pietersburg, Cape Town and Durban, Tell
Freedom is essentially set in Vrededorp – Johannesburg Slum, where Abrahams was born. Tell Freedom is an
episodic work, but in spite of this, Kolawole Ogungbesan has said that “it is a very organized book”³, and that:
“the unifying theme (is how) Abrahams
successfully escape from conditions
which have crippled his family; friends,
acquaintances from child-hood and most
others from his race”4.
In the Fog of the Season’s End, on the other hand, is set in the Coloured areas of Cape Town. The novel tells
of the subterfuges of its hero, Beukes, member of a banned underground unnamed organization to escape the
Each night Beukes must sleep in a different room and
the various people encountered during his flight span,
in effect, the whole spectrum of available responses 5.
According to Robert Green, “In the Fog”, then, is a form of picaresque novel, an account of the hero’s travels
around Cape Town at the “end” of one “season”, four days in late summer, and the dawn of another season of
revolutionary struggle and the ultimate victory”6.
In Tell Freedom, we are introduced early to a vivid picture of rootlessness. Even in infancy, Abrahams (Lee)
cannot relate himself fully to his parents, hence he escapes into his ‘raindrop world’:
“I pushed my nose and lip---. I was inside
the raindrop away from the misery of the cold
damp room. I was in a place of warmth and
sunshine, inside my raindrop world”7.
But, no matter how hard he tries to escape from reality into fantasy, the situation characterized by
rootlessness reasserts itself. He returns to the misery and poverty that surround his environment:
The sound jerked me out of my raindrop
The state of uprootedness is heightened further when Lee ( Peter Abrahams) loses his father (the family
breadwinner). As a result of the death of his father, Lee is uprooted physically (though temporarily) from his
Vrededorp Slum home and taken to Elsburg Location. Here, he had to begin afresh to grapple with the
problems posed by the new environment. And we are told that the location lay in a barren area:
“The location stood on a rising---.
On windy days the sand patches were
stirred to life and everything, in all
the houses, was coated with the fine, gritty
sand that hung like a thick mist over the place”9.
Just as Lee was getting used to Elsburg, he was uprooted again and taken to Vrededorp. Again, he had to
begin the painful task of adjusting to the hurly-burly of township life. These elements of rootlessness further
concretized the escapist tendency in Lee as events in the story were later to show.
Rootlessness is also manifested in Beukes – the hero of La Guma’s In the Fog. He cannot settle down in the
same house with his wife, neither can he sleep in the same house for two consecutive nights for fear of
detection and arrest. He travels around Cape Town, and his lack of a home and means of livelihood do not
deter him from his activities – the propagation of the ideals of the “organization”. Beukes has no parents, no
brothers; he cannot even stay to fend for his young and beautiful wife, Frances. Like some wild animal,
Beukes has to go to the zoo and rest to avoid detection and arrest. At other times, he finds solace in a museum
– places that are not meant for human beings to live in:
“It had been sunnier there. The light
splashed in through big windows illuminating
the glass eyes of the leopards, lions and
baboons like faulty radio valves. He had
been alone, a stranger in a lost, dead world”10.
This alien world uproots Beukes and turns him into a person who only succeeds in relating himself externally,
to an outside world that is “untrustworthy, potentially always a trap”11. La Guma portrays Beukes in this
external manner in order to heighten further, the picture of rootlessness caused by apartheid in South Africa.
And this in turn, makes Beukes a realistic figure. Under the stringent apartheid regulations in South Africa, it
is difficult for an individual to relate himself both internally and externally – and this inability by characters to
develop fully-rounded traits forms the core of rootlessness in South Africa.
Robert Green further asserts that:
“Beukes’ most characteristic gesture is the
glance over the shoulder--- A street, a car,
even a buff envelope, may each hide a danger,
so that Beukes must constantly be evaluating
them in relation to his own threatened
The lack of an internal portrayal of Beukes by La Guma, further lend credence to the rootlessness that
characterize the typical struggling man in South Africa.
In Tell Freedom, Lee (Peter Abrahams) the hero of the story, like Beukes in In the Fog of the Season’s End,
suffered under the oppressive apartheid system and then sought for an end to the system. At the close of the
two works, both Lee and Beukes were more determined to see to the dismantling of apartheid as conditions
worsen and more people become displaced and uprooted from their environment. At the outset of the two
works, the situations portrayed were relatively better. Disillusionment resulting from the strict application of
apartheid laws which caused rootlessness among Black South Africans had not attained the pitch it later did.
Lee left South Africa as a result of frustration with the apartheid situation, and Beukes narrowly escape police
arrest, but left with a gun shot and lost his colleague Elias Tekwane to the racist police.
Kolawole Ogungbesan has accused Abrahams of portraying wooden characters’ in his works. He asserts that,
the characters in Tell Freedom are as wooden as in any of his novells”13.
What Ogungbesan is saying in essence, is that Abrahams cannot portray round characters in his works,
including Tell Freedom. But, the people we meet in this autobiography fall into the general scheme of
rootlessness in South Africa. The characters do not have the opportunity to settle down in one place
permanently as a result of their acute poverty and their unrelenting struggle for survival. The environment
where these characters live is alien and sub-human. This consist of single rooms and shacks in apartments
governed by decay and disrepair. This is typical of slums specially created for the Black labour force by
Whites. This kind of environment contributes greatly to cripple the potentials of characters and in turn, denies
them a strong basis in life – a further manifestation of rootlessness. Here is Abrahams’ description of one
such Slum dwelling:
An iron bedstead stood against the wall
facing the door. Near it was the round
table ---. An old unpainted wooden chair
was near the table. Two tin trunks and a
small cupboard in a corner made up the rest
of the furniture. There was no ordinary
window to the room---. My eyes grew accustomed
to the fog. A thin, dark woman with
long black hair sat propped up in an old bed
in the far corner of the room. The bed was
covered with pieces of rags---14.
The poverty that characterizes the average South African Black man, and which in turn makes him rootless, is
reinforced by La Guma in his description of the old woman who was ejected from her lodgings. The woman was
“thin and gnarled, with ropey hair the colour of used, dirty – white wool”15.
She also had “ancient liquid eyes (that) stared out of the brown, clawed face with a bright, fierce dignity”16.
The old woman set amidst her archaic and decaying belongings which consisted mainly of old furniture, junk
and household items that were demented in one way or another.
Rootlessness as reflected in the people discussed in these works, is heighten further by the apparent
discrepancies that exist in the living conditions between Blacks and Whites. White people appear to have
everything that is good, whereas Blacks have nothing. Abrahams says in Tell Freedom, that, “all that was
finest and best in life was ‘Reserved for Europeans only”17. Yet, in South Africa, Blacks do all the dirty, and
heavy work. Blacks dig gold from the bowels of the earth. And this gold serves the interest of whites and
sustains the South African economy. Inspite of their hard work, Blacks are paid very low wages; wages that do
not even meet up to half of their basic requirements for survival such as food, shelter and clothing. White
people do not show any appreciation to Blacks for their devotion to duty. In a conversation between Beatie
Adams (the Nursemaid) and Beukes, Beukes says:
Yah. It’s like that with them. You raise the
kids, change the nappies, give them the bottle.
When they grow up they forget it and become
part of the rest looking down on us18.
Whites exploit Blacks and leave them totally disillusioned, hopeless, emotionally and physically uprooted from
their society with nowhere to look for solace and an anchor for support. The myth of white supremacy and
Black inferiority is natured by whites to white and Black people alike, at various levels of the people’s
development from their birth to their death, and this forms the core of apartheid.
Incidents of uprooting such as the forced removal of inhabitants from an area they have lived in from time
immemorial, are vividly portrayed by La Guma in In the Fog of the Season’s End:
The sector had the look of a town cleared
After a battle. Whole blocks had disappeared,
leaving empty, flattened lots surrounded by
battered survivors--- ‘they going to do it up
again for white people’, the driver complained19.
Incidents such as the one described above, affect a whole community. On an individual level, incidents of
uprooting also abound:
A little way down the street a small crowd
had gathered around a pile of old furniture---
two men were loading household effects.
‘Just somebody moving house’, Beukes said20.
In Tell Freedom, the imposing sign, “RESERVED FOR EUROPEANS ONLY”21, a symbol of apartheid,
causes Lee to feel alienated – a person with no claims to the resources in his country. As a result, he embarks
on the conscious process of removing himself physically from South Africa and goes later into exile. With this,
he becomes rootless.
Ogungbesan has argued that the “uprooted Lee we meet in Tell Freedom, is also reflective of the alienated
Xuma of Mine Boy, and the frustrated Dick Nduli of Song of the city”22. The rootless trend, therefore,
extends beyond Tell Freedom. Robert Green in his essay titled “Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of the Season’s
End: The politics of subversion”, argues that, “In the Fog, is not concerned with the moral and emotional
maturation of its hero”23. This type of rootlessness is not limited to the hero of In the Fog, alone, it is also
aptly manifested in Beukes’ colleague, Elias Tekwane – alias ‘Hazel Friday’. Tekwane’s childhood was
characterised by acute poverty, hunger and deprivation. Elias, with the other children in his village had no
sufficient food to eat. “They went about in rags and tattered clothes, and had lice in their stiff hair”24. In
addition, Elias lost his father in a mine accident – therefore, Elias, like Lee in Tell Freedom, had to be taken
care of by his mother.
Even the situation of Elias Tekwane’s village appeared mean, barren and rootless, like the Elsburg location in
Tell Freedom. The village lay in a valley surrounded by “hills (that) looked like the thin form of a starving girl
covered by a thin blanket”25. The houses of the village “lay on the hillsides like discarded toys on a rumpled
carpet of brown and ochre”26. The disorganised nature of the village and its barren surroundings, lend
credence to the poverty that faces the non-white rural dweller in South Africa, and which in turn causes him to
migrate to the urban areas to earn a living; the beginning of his journey into rootlessness. Elias Tekwane later
left his village for the city to find employment and improve his living conditions, but met with even harsher
conditions, and joined the ‘organisation’, whose aim was the dismantling of apartheid. In the process of
propagating the ideals of the ‘organisation’ he was arrested, tortured and killed in prison by the racist police.
And his death was kept secret. Even Beukes his colleague was not aware that Elias had been arrested and
tortured to death.
NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO
1 Robert Green, “Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of the Season’s End: The Politics of subversion”, in UMOJA,
No 3 (summer, 1979) P. 85.
2 Green, P. 85
3 Kolewale Ogungbesan, The Writing of Peter Abrahams (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), P. 86.
4 Ogungbesan, P. 86.
5 Green, P. 85
6 Green, P. 85
7 Peter Abrahams, Tell Freedom (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1981), P.9. All subsequent Quotes from the
text are to this edition.
8 Abrahams, P. 9.
9 Abrahams, P. 18.
10 Alex La Guma, In the Fog of the Season’s End (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1972), P. 14.
All subsequent Quotes from the text are to this edition.
11 Green, P. 87.
12 Green, P. 87.
13 Ogungbesan, P.90.
14 Abrahams, PP. 52-92.
15 La Guma, P. 29.
16 La Guma, P. 29.
17 Abrahams, P. 310.
18 La Guma, P. 11.
19 La Guma, P. 26.
20 La Guma, P. 27.
21 Abrahams, P. 310.
22 La Guma, P. 74.
25 La Guma, P. 73-74
26 La Guma, P. 73.
The theme of rootlessness as manifested in the works of Abrahams and La Guma discussed in this essay, has
become an endemic problem in South Africa. Endemic in the sense that, so long as the policy of apartheid
remains in force, the problem of uprootedness of both the individual and his environment will continue.
For the propagators of the myth of white supremacy, though the tide of events seems to be in their favour now,
the future does not appear so bright. There are already dark clouds in the horizon. Even in the texts treated in
the essay there are various areas of optimism to buttress this assertion. In Mine Boy, for example, Xuma the
protagonist learnt to regard Paddy O’shea and other Whites as just fellow human beings with the same basic
Gradually, Blacks are becoming fully aware in South Africa that whites are not really superior to them. They
are beginning to question themselves with a view to seeking redress to the wrongs done to them. This
realisation can be compared to the subjugation meted out by a dominant ethnic group-the Batswanas to the
Masarwas (Bushmen), until one of the Batswana nobles married a Masarwa woman, which in turn led to the
realisation on the part of the Masarwas that their depraved condition could be redressed, in Bessie Head’s
In A Walk in the Night, uprooted, but well-meaning and hard working characters like Franky Lorenzo, have a
glimmer of hope for the future in South Africa. The novella ends with Lorenzo’s wife, Grace, having a “knot of
life within her stomach”³. This ‘knot of life, symbolizes the new breed of South Africans ready to be born:
those who will achieve true freedom and build a free and fair society based on “man without colour”4. For this
breed of South Africans, rootlessness and apartheid shall be a thing of the past, as they are fully conscious of
events in their society.
The preparation to end apartheid and, therefore, curtail the trend of rootlessness, is intensified in In the Fog
of the Season’s End, where three members of the underground ‘organisation’ are smuggled out of South
Africa to help in furthering the cause of the resistance, by acquiring more military training abroad. Indeed, La
Guma gives us a glimpse of the eventual victory that was to come as a result of this resistance:
The sun was brightening the east now--- they
have gone to war in the name of a suffering
people. What the enemy has himself created,
these will become battle grounds--- they do
not have long to wait5.
This allusion to a bright future for the uprooted people of South Africa is echoed by Abrahams in Tell Freedom
In his moment of departure into exile from South Africa, Abrahams says:
A man can submit today in order to resist
tomorrow. My submission had been such---
The two million Whites cannot for ever be lords
over ten million non Whites--- when the
first rays of the morning sun touched the sky
in the east I got up and dressed. The long
night was over6.
Whites in South Africa consciously uproot Blacks from their land and culture, brainwash them with a view to
maintaining masterdom over the forever. But, in the process, they over-regiment Blacks. And, these Blacks
are becoming aware of the White people’s intention. Therefore, Blacks are embarking on a process of
addressing the imbalance created by whites 7. The basic message in the four works of Abrahams and La
Guma treated in this research is the same: that is, that, Blacks and coloureds are not content to remain
rootless and second class citizens in the land of their birth. They want true equality among all races in the
scheme of things in South Africa.
NOTES TO THE CONCLUSION
1 Kolewale Ogungbesan, The Writing of Peter Abrahams (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), PP. 46-46.
2 Bessie Head, Maru (London: Heinemann Educational Ltd, 1971), P. 125.
3 Alex La Guma, A Walk in the Night (London: Heinemann Educational Ltd, 1968) P. 96
4 Ogungbesan, P. 2.
5 Alex La Guma, In the Fog of the Season’s End (London: Heinemann Educational Ltd, 1972) PP. 180-181.
6 Peter Abrahams, Tell Freedom (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1981), PP. 310-311.
7 Christopher Heywood (Ed.) Aspects of South African Literature (London: Heinemann Educational Ltd,
1976), PP. 121-127.
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