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Alan Paton

I do not like to mention it
But there is a voice I cannot silence. 1

Alan Paton Paton, craggy old liberal, friend of Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, hater of and hated by apartheid, loved and unloved by the ANC, famous for Cry, the Beloved Country (1948).


Aloes, KwaZulu-Natal

Alan Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg/Malitzboko, Natal in 1903, into a strict Christian nature-loving family. Cry, the Beloved Country, broadly speaking, deals with the destruction of traditional pastoral Zulu life by modern white industrial society, the consequences for blacks and whites, and the possibility of redemption through reconciliation and mutual aid . Soon after Cry, the Beloved Country Paton resigned as director of the Diepkloof reformatory, and dedicated himself to writing. In 1953, Paton formed the multi-racial South African Liberal Party - declared illegal and disbanded in 1968. He wrote until his death in 1988.


Cry, the Beloved Country - universal, liberal, reforming. Reads like an aloe in the cool morning, reads like the taste of soap in your mouth. His poetry, to my mind, is a truer voice. No breathtaking, romantic landscape : nature, particularly plants and sunlight, forms a spiritual cipher. There is a sense of individual tragedy as history catches up with itself. There is passion and tenderness. There is political comment, but also a flickering uncertainty absent from the mountainous liberalism of the novels.

His most famous poem, To a Small Boy Who Died at Diepkloof Reformatory, opens:

Small offender, small innocent child
With no conception or comprehension
Of the vast machinery set in motion
By your trivial transgression,
Of the great forces of authority,
Of judges, magistrates, and lawyers,
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors,
Principals, police, and sociologists,
Kept moving and alive by your delinquency,
This day, and under the shining sun
Do I commit your body to the earth
Oh child, oh lost and lonely one.

He is a grand-father who finds the world has not lived up to the best side of its promise.

And if I write it down, people may know that he was two men, and that one was brave and gentle; and they may know, when they judge and condemn, that this one struggled with himself in darkness and alone, calling on his God and on the Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on him. Therefore when the other Pieter van Vlaanderen did not entreat, this one entreated; and when the other did not repent, this one repented; and because there is no such magic, this one, the brave and gentle, was destroyed with him. 2

1. Could You Not Write Otherwise?, 1948 back to text
2. Too Late the Phalarope, 1951 back to text