Born in 1925 Cape Town, Alex La Guma is a writer, a leader of the South African Coloured People’s organization and a Defendant in the Treason Trial. Graduated High school and then joined the Young Communist League in 1947. He then became a member of the Communist Party a year later. He wrote for the new age from 1955. He wrote many articles for fighting talk in which he captured the atmosphere of the trial proceedings. He was placed under 24 hour house arrest in 1962, and was detained again in 1963. In 1966, he eaves Africa and wrote novels and short stories and received the 1969 Lotus Prize for Literature. In 1972, he edited the Apartheid: A collection of writings on South African Racism by South Africans. He was considered one of the most South African’s major twentieth century writers. A walk in the Night was his first book based on a nature of District sex, Cape Town. La Guma was an important political figure as well. Being charged with treason, banned, house arrested and eventually forced into exile, he was chief representative of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Caribbean at the time of his death in 1985.
South Africa is a country blessed with an abundance of natural resources including fertile farmlands and unique mineral resources. South African mines are world leaders in the production of diamonds and gold as well as strategic metals such as platinum. It was colonized by the English and Dutch in the seventieth century. The English domination of the Dutch descendants resulted in the Dutch establishing the new colonies of Orange Free State ad Transual. The diamonds in these lands around 1900 resulted in an English invasion which sparked the Boer War. Until the 1940’s, an uneasy power sharing between the two groups held sway when the Afrikaner National Party was able to gain a strong majority.
Strategists in the National party invented apartheid as a meaning to cement their control over the economic and social system. The aim of the apartheid was to maintain while domination while extending racial separation. Beginning in the 1960’s, a plan of Grand Apartheid was executed, emphasizing territorial separation and police repression. The Enactment of Apartheid law in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalized. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition between marriage, between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of “whites only” jobs. The Population Registration Act required that all South Africans are racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African), and or Coloured (mixed decent).
In 1951, the Bonto Authorities Act established a basis for ethnic government in African reserves known as homelands. The homelands were independent states to which each African was assigned by the government. All of the political rights, including voting was held by an African who was restricted to the designated homeland. The idea was that they would be citizens of homeland and lose their citizenship in South Africa and any right involvement with the South African parliament. The homeland administration refused the nominal independence, maintaining pressure for political rights within the country as a whole. Nevertheless, Africans living in the homelands needed passports to enter South Africa. So they were basically considered aliens in their own country.
Alex la Guma, very first novel presents the struggle against oppression by a group of characters in Cape Town’s toughest district and the moral dissolution of a young man who is unjustly fired from his job. Being published in 1962, La Guma has a high reputation that is based on his vivid style, his Coloured dialogue, and his ability to present sympatically and realistically people living under sordid and oppressive circumstances. This book reflects the plight of the South Africans and American blacks, a plight which has “symptoms” racism, segregation, and injustice. The novel depicts on a conflict between two main races; whites and blacks in 1950’s South Africa respectively. Being set in Cape Town in District Six, in one night in the late 1950’s, the time setting represents Apartheid in South Africa and depicts the abusive attitudes and methods of white South Africans against their black compatriots. With the obnoxious system going on, there are harsh attitudes which the black community has to endure and on the hand it is a little opportunity given to blacks to lead normal lives.
Michael Adonis and Willie boy are two main characters and they are set as the epitome of the unfortunate black youth; unemployed, apparently uneducated, and exposed at any moment to the abusive methods of police. Both of them try to find their way out to freedom but can’t they are stuck in delinquency. In the book, there are a lot of negative images of the Negro represented in the perception of the whites. Whites feel that they have the right to treat the blacks in any type of way they want regardless of what anybody says. Whites being the oppressor and the blacks being oppressed. This comes as a reflection of the attitudes of whites which express the feeling of exclusion, alienation, injustice, oppression, violence, humiliation and anything else that is biased in Apartheid of South Africa.
Michael Adonis; a young man who gets off a tram and entering what later becomes the setting of the story: District Six. In the beginning, La Guma gives a strong description of what Michael looks like before telling us that he is an angry man. He is viewed as a young man who is easy to anger but is aware of his right to perform a natural function and is willing to work and does not indulge in theft and thugery as others might peg him for. As well he is a man with violent inclinations who nurses anger at length and is therefore prone to explode.
Michael Adonis is a young man who is annoyed because he had lost his job for trying to use the restroom. African right to strike and trade union the white employers managed to secure cheap African Labor. In the novel, it depicts the poverty of the Coloured including the employed one. This was meant to perpetuate the African plight and improve the economic situation of the white employer and employee by guaranteeing them the African cheap labor and eliminating the African potential competition as though black South Africans didn’t share the same citizenship with the white South Africans. After being fired from his job, Michael enters a dirty Portuguese restaurant where he finds Willie boy. Willie boy, being another similar character that La Guma explains how he exposes the evil of apartheid. At the restaurant, he also meets with three youths who inquire about another character called Foxy. Walking out of the café Michael forgets about Willie boy and went about on his own. The psychological torture that blacks and Coloured in South Africa go through, they resort to alcohol, crime and prostitution.
Here the characters are doomed because there is nothing they can do about their predicament. Michael stops at the café, hoping that by so doing he will purge himself of the shame and humiliation of his encounter with the white oppressors. At the same time he throws his cigarette down the pavement and immediately, there are two slum boys who are wearing ragged shirts and have horny feet scramble over it and the details that are described is important because it tells us about the squalor and it is an indication of juvenile delinquency. In contrast of this young boys, there are two policemen who stopped Michael down the street and demanded to know where he was heading to. They search him irrespectively and Michael goes off once more angry and frustrated. He was already in a state of anger because when talking to Willie boy, Willie boy rambles off about why he doesn’t work for white people. While searching Michael, they think he is bhang (drugs) on him.
In this scenario, you can see that this is a clear case of police intimidation and harassment of the inability of a person of Michael’s caliber to have the freedom of walking without being stopped. After being stopped, Adonis enters the pub in District Six where a Jew called Mister Ike and he sells behind the counter. Michael orders wine to soothe his rage. Here you also see that Adonis relies on wine to control his temper which describes him as a volatile and unpredictable man. Leaving the pub, Adonis heads home and passes through dirty slums with narrow alleys. At this tenement he stops to watch a cat struggling with a dead fish. He is a man who hates the squalor but has no choice but to live in it. He meets a young lady name Hazel which is the “lady of the twilight”. He tried to grab her but fails and is left alone on the steps feeling lonely. Again here, he produces more anger and is feeling malicious. At the same time he encounters Uncle Doughty.
During this time he helps the old man into his room, drinks his wine, tortures him to unleash his anger, frustration and loneliness, and then kills him. Doughty represents the whites because of his skin color, we can’t forgive Michael for hitting the poor old man who had done no harm to him. Here this is an example of inhumanity and a victim of dehumanization. With this going on, Adonis sobers up and realizes what he has done and is feeling guilty. At this moment, he is afraid and bolts out the door being unsure of what to do next. Thoughts run through Adonis mind like “well, he didn’t have no right living here with us colors.” Adonis is a character who is not aware that skin pigmentation doesn’t matter and he equates color with privilege.
Willie boy a character who is presented to us a flighty not too serious youth who does not care for work because he refused to work for whites. Also, he is a young man who loves to play the jukebox. Unlike, Michael Adonis, Willie boy strikes out as a layout. Willie boy does not hesitate to point out that he does not work for any white man and yet still survives. Willie boy visits the café to drink cheap wine on credit and at the café there are black girls who messes with the foreigners, in particular sailors of low breed, bringing to the fore the issues of prostitution. He sees one of the sailors fondling of the girls and him objects “These Jubas. They just messing our girls…I don’t like them messing our girls…to hell with them”. While we encounter Willie boy again, he is contemplating on getting a loan from Michael.
Meeting Foxy’s group who likes ghosts keep turning up and finds Michael door locked. Willie boy try to see if he is in Doughtry’s room and there he finds the old man dead. At this moment, this is the beginning of his running although he is innocent of the circumstances. Through the realistic mode, the author advances the “cycle of violence” in South Africa that Willie boy has suffered from. Willie boy was beaten by Miss Gypsy and he has been in that type of violence since childhood. “His mother beat him at the slightest provocation and he knew that she was wreaking the experience upon him for the beating she received from his father”.
Another major character is Constable Raalt. A police officer whose present duty is to patrol District 6. He is a Boer policemen who holds a humiliating estimation of the blacks and considers them primitive. Andries his partner is a man who is full of responsibility but is affected by the white collective unconscious that considers the white race as being the superior. So this makes him worried about the white reputation to be affected by the brutality of the white people like constable Raalt. Raalt drive around in a police van with Andries and is bragging about the problems he has with his wife. Raalt hides his anger at his wife and it like a hard steel under camouflage paint. A guy who is very annoyed at Andries because he does not have similar marital problems. Constable Raalt is a malicious man who likes contemplating others people pains and he is unstable at home who cannot be stable on the job. Andries, the other driver of Raalt wishes that Raalt would transfer to a white area to avoid his abuse of power against the Coloured. The violence that characterizes South Africa is shown through the character here.
He is depicted as a very ruthless man who represents the South African society of white oppressors. Later on, when Willie Boy dies, he considered himself superior to blacks because of the terms he uses such as bastard. To quote Raalt: “no hotnot bastard gets away with murder on my patrol”. A close reading of A Walk in the night reveals the abusive methods of constable Raalt on the black citizens. Raalt has no respect for Coloured people and could kill them at will. He terrorizes the life of the Coloured people everywhere he goes. He went into the Club House with the aim of intimidating and extorting money from the Coloured man, Chips who runs the place.
After Willie boy death, we witness two confrontations. The crowds accuses of Constable Raalt of cold blooded murder, but that is all they can do because Raalt is the law. The overbearing Raalt, the law with his gun, has had his taste of blood and does not care. He loads the wounded Willie boy into the back of the can and continues with his patrol. As Willie boy lies at the back of the police van, pain and nausea wracking his body, Andries is anxious to get the boy to the hospital, Raalt does not bother. Raalt was so concerned that he had his partner stop at a convenience store so he can buy some smoke. Here is where Willie boy traces back to his childhood of his bitter purposeless life all mingled up with his present situation and then dies.
Another character that is introduce in the story is Joe. Joe is a poor person with hardly anything to eat. Michaels sees Joe and offers him a bob which is slang for beer. Joe turns down the offer and offer Michael some fish that he had picked up off the beach. One thing to understand about Joe is that he is an open handed person with a good heart even though he is poor. Alex la Guma sees him as a clean heart human being. Michael and Joe also have a conservation about the segregation of beaches. The curse of segregation also inflicted nonwhites on a large scale; districts and even towns were not allowed for nonwhites to go to without having permits. The frequent absence of Jimmy La Guma at home when Alex was a little child, can be paralleled with the description of Joe’s Father for his family. Joe’s father’s description caused Joe to feel miserable and frustrated. However, the specificity of Joe’s peaceful character makes him able to accept his bitter reality without resorting to violence.
The environment of Black district is placed in sharp contrast with the conductive area where the whites live. The black majority live in the ghettos, in squalors, and in bad housing conditions. The contrast in racial desegregation is brought to the fore as the white oppressors segregate themselves from the Coloured people by living in cozy environments. La Guma presents the degrading conditions of the Lorenzo family who live in one room: “Four of their children lay sleeping in the narrow single bed against the wall on the side of the room. They slept under the one threadbare, worn, sweaty, blanket, and fitted together like parts of a puzzle into the narrow sagging space, two at each end of the bed.” Grace, Franky Lorenzo’s wife had to use “the tap in the latrine” to get water to make tea for her husband.
This underscores the level of realism in South Africa. Also, here we have Franky Lorenzo who expresses his feelings of whites. On pg. 34, he quotes “They say, mos, it is us poor people’s riches. You got no food in your guts, and you got no food for your children, but you’re rich with them. The rich people got money but they got one, two kids. They got enough to feed ten, twenty children and they only make one or two. We haven’t got even enough for one kid and we make eight, nine-one a year. Jesus.” Being said, he said this because his wife Grace has an unborn child on the way and they cant even afford for the children they already have. He took his anger out on Grace and hurting her because he made it seem like it was her fault she is pregnant.
During the pub scene, we are introduced to the taxi driver. A Coloured taxi driver who wants to awaken the consciousness of his community by conveying the idea that the white capitalist system is responsible for racism and segregation in the country. The taxi driver represents the communist conviction of the author. He cannot explain it well because he is apparently illiterate, but his conviction is deeply rooted in him. When speaking about the violence of the whites against blacks all over the world, he puts the blame on the capitalist system.
The last chapter of the novel is a cinematic rendition of what happens all over district 6 concerning the events and characters that are mentioned. Foxy and his gang go on to their mission, a cockroach waits for darkness to eat up the mess in Doughtry’s room and John Abraham tosses over, unable to bear his guilt; Frank Lorenzo snores peacefully as Grace contemplates the future life she is carrying and Joe heads for the sea. It is a sweep at the characters life and their hopes.
Since 1948, The Policy of “Apartheid” of the South African Government has been one of the most publicized racial policies in the world, that both within and without the union just what the policy is all about has led to some confusion, misunderstanding and controversy. These advocates of apartheid see the separate development of the two major racial groups (European and Bantu). Apartheid has come to be a comprehensive social policy and it touches upon every sphere of social life in South Africa: politics, education, economics, religion, and so far on.
The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre was the result of a peaceful protest regarding racist South African policies of apartheid. The enforcement of Pass Laws and the reissue of laws that restricted the movement of Black Africans in White areas in South Africa initiated a protest in Sharpeville. Pan African Congressional Leaders assembled close to 5,000 protesters to bring attention to such unfairness. The intent of the protest was for the South African government to rethink their Apartheid policies and abolish such practices. The protest mood was more “festive than belligerent” as the crowd moved towards the police station. It is here in which the response moved into the realm where the massacre was evident.
The police response to the protest became the primary cause of the massacre. The police assembled and used disproportionate responses to the protest. The use of low flying aircraft to seek to break the crowd up would be one such measure. The police’s response to the stone throwing of the crowds was the use of armored cars and shooting on protesters. Many of the protesters were shot in the back, indicating that they were trying to run away from the police and were still pursued.
The reports of men, women, and children running from the police presence “like rabbits” only feeds the imagery of their being gunned down in such a callous and cruel manner. This brutality is only emphasized by the police commissioner’s statements about what happened in Sharpeville: “It started when hordes of natives surrounding the police station…If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way.” In this statement, one can see the lack of regard for the life of Black South Africans, one in which state sanctioned violence can lead to massacre so easily.
The setting of this novel is important because it brings out the social and moral decay of the society. The realistic depiction of gloom, rot, filth, and neglect is a powerful indication of the destructiveness of the Apartheid black environment of District Six, which affects the moods of people’s lives. The characters here are overwhelmed by the environment and are doomed to “walk the night” in frustration, uncertain of their destination, ambition, destinies, and purposes in life. Blacks of District Six cannot find a way out of their situation except unlawful behavior. Willie boy engages in petty crimes and violent acts in order to survive. Michael was illegitimately dismissed from his job and resorts to the membership of the gang of Foxy, Hendricks and Toyer, who specialize in robbery and petty crimes as well.
Courtney from Study Moose
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