The Indian Diaspora





Cry The Beloved Country

Ananth Singh, South Africa.

111 mins.

Starring: James Earl Jones, Richard Harris

Aging priest STEPHEN KUMALO (James Earl Jones) lives with his wife in the Zulu village of Ixopo high in the green mountains, and far from Johannesburg. When a letter arrives one day from that daunting and distant big city, Kurnalo is convinced that it immediately spells trouble. All of his relatives - sister, brother and son - have disappeared into Johannesburg, none to ever appear again, none to ever contact him by letter.

Kumalo's right. The letter is from a fellow priest he has never met by the name of MSIMANGU (Vusi Kunene), who writes that Kumalo's sister, GERTRUDE (Damhisa Kente), has fallen in with the wrong and gotten herself into trouble. Msimangu bids Kumalo to come to Johannesburg to retrieve her. Kumalo feels obligated to perform this service on behalf of his sister, but the real motivation is to find his son/ ABSALOM (Eric Miyeni), whom he longs to hear from again.
Kumafo has never been in the big city before and he is amazed by the violent brightness and speed of it. Immediately upon arrival he is spotted as a visitor and is robbed, but he finally makes his way to the parish house where Msimangu offers him accommodation. Kumalo is an extremely devout and honest man/ who expects nothing but to endure the torment of this life for God's sake/ and he is deeply touched by the hospitality of Msimangu and the trouble he has taken on his behalf. A terrative, brotherly affection begins to bloom between the two men, but it is constantly distanced by the series of emotional blows that Kumalo is about to receive. The first is the shame that his sister Gertrude is a prostitute with an illegitimate son. Msimangu helps him to retrieve her from the whorehouse and gets her accommodation, with her son, in the home of a nearby lady of the church.


Kumalo questions Gertrude about the whereabouts of his son. Her only lead is that he was often seen in the company of his cousin, the son of Kumalo's brother, JOHN, JOHN KUMALO (Charles S. Dutton) is quite well known around Johannesburg as a political activist and organiser. He no longer believes in the church or in God, and he also seems to have little care for his own son. A few clues from John puts Kumalo on the path of finding Absalom, This callous reunion with his brother is also painful to
Kumalo, but it is nothing compared to the betrayal that will come.

Following his leads, Kumalo discovers that Absalom appears to be a thief who is constantly skirting the law. The trail soon leads to a reform school where he i5 supposedly imprisoned, but the warder there tells Kumaio that Absalom did quite weii at the school and was released. For the first time, Kumaio swells slightly with pride, but the warder informs him that he was also released because he has made a woman pregnant out of wedlock, and the reform school determined that he wanted to stay with the woman and raise the child properly.

Disheartened by the news, but at long last within reach, Kumalo goes to see his son and his "family". He is further disappointed to learn that Absalom's "wife" has not seen Absalom for the past three days. Enraged, Kumalo is sure that his son has abandoned this pregnant girl, and that the girl is no better than Absalom. On the point of giving up hope and going home/ Kumalo next hears the news of the murder of white social reformer ARTHUR JARVtS, a family man dedicated to the overthrow of the apartheid system and to giving the black native population a fair shake. Kumalo knew Arthur as a small boy, because Arthur is the son of JAMES JARVIS (Richard Harris), a well-to-do Afrikaans farmer from Kumalo's province, and a staunch rightist who holds none of his son's liberal beliefs.

Something about this murder upsets Kumalo, and he deeply fears the news of it. Msimangu warns him that he should not jump to conclusions, with so many crimes taking place in Johannesburg. But Kumalo's intuition proves right, and when the suspects are caught for the murder, they turn out to be Kumalo's nephew (his brother John's son), and, worst of all, his own son Absalom. Now begins the really painful reunion of father and son. The one, a devout priest, and the other an imprisoned murderer. But Absalom turns out to be a frightened young man with a hint of his father's heart. He tells his father the truth, that it was he who shot Jan/is, but he did it accidentally, because when Jan/is came down the steps and
shouted, Absalom was frightened - and somehow the gun went off.

Kumalo is naively brightened by the news. He thinks that he may have a cw, and he appeals ro his brother, John for help. But John is more intere5ted in the fact the Absalom is confessing to the shooting - he sees it solely as a way to get his own son of the hook - and he turns his back on his own brother. The case that John and his son take to court helps to convict Absalom of the murder - with the sentence being death by hanging. John's son is released.

Kumalo seeks out his son's common law wife, KATIE (Leieti Knumalo), and arranges for the two of them to marry in prison. Kumalo promises to take his new daughter-in-law back to Natal and to help her bring up the child. But meanwhile, to add further injury/ Gertrude runs off from the house where she was staying and abandons her own illegitimate son. Kumalo decides to return home with his new nephew as welt and take responsibility for him.

But before he leaves, he must do an errand for a friend in Natal- This friend, has also not heard from his daughter 5ince she moved to Johannesburg. Kumalo goes to the house in question where a white family, also from Natal lives. They were her former employers/ but have not seen the girl in many months. However, this home, by coincidence, is also where James Jarvis happens to be staying in Johannesburg while looking after his murdered son's effects. -;

In the heartwrenching scene the two srar-crossed men, Kumalo and Jarvis, meet. And Kumaio painfully confesses that they know each olher from the village (thought they've never officially met), and that it was his son, Absalom, who killed jams' son, Arthur.

Jarvis is actually moved by the pained, devout, poor priest from his own homeland. In going through Arthur's possessions, and reading his works, and hearing how he was admired by so many people, Jarvis, too, has come to an emotional cross-road, and has come to better understand not only his son/ but the injustice of his own country. The two men part without words, both confused and upset by the encounter. Kumalo returns to Natat, feeling defeated and not worthy of being his people's spiritual leader, but, surprisingly, he finds that the village is even more strongly behind him for the enormous cross he has had to bear, for the noble way he has borne his suffering, and for the grandness of his heart in bringing his nephew and daughter-in- law into his life. He continues as the father of his small village, awaiting the day of Absalom's execution in order to go into the mountains and pray.

Then one day a rain storm brings a visitor to Kumalo's church - James Jarvis. Jarvis sits in Kumalo's leaky church and the two men come to terms with each other, and with the unavoidably tragic events that have finally put these two neighbours in the same room at the same time. At what for them is the highest possible cost - the toss of their sons - they have somehow come to understand, appreciate, and even value the life and the struggle of each other. When he leaves, Jarvis promises to build a new church, for
Kumalo and his people.

"I enjoyed every moment of it. Much of what is portrayed in Cry, the Beloved Country evokes such strong emotions about the terrible past from which South Africa has just emerged." --Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa

Sunday, November 10th, 12 noon

Home        Info       Current Events        Tickets        Membership/Contributions      Events Archive