Throughout the years I have read several books written by the South African author Alan Paton. Now I have looked at my Paton Part on my shelves and saw this first part of his autobiography. It was about time to read this book and I discovered I got quite a bit of background material for his other books. This first part of his autobiography was published in 1980, eight years before his death.
Paton became well known as a novelist and as a critic of the apartheid system. In these activities his christian convictions as a guiding light were clearly present. What struck me in this book were his activities with young black delinquents in a reform institution. This place was called Diepkloof. This was a place with bleak perspectives for the inmates. At this institution Paton started changes in the way the place was run. He talks about it with his fellow workers, he has the backing of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyer (Secretary of Education) and he sees the possibilities of Diepkloof. Slowly but surely he takes his fellow workers on a road to change. The rules of Diepkloof are being relaxed, but that was not the most important issue at the prison. To me the most important issue was Paton giving confidence and giving trust to all these boys. Freedom in seeping into the system. The boys are being prepared for life in society, for a life in freedom to take part in society.
Paton starts from the beginning in his book, about his early years in Pietermaritzburg, his family background, his christian upbringing, the schools he attended, the teachers he had, the role he played in student life at Natal University College (he went to London for an International Student Conference), his relationship with several influential Afrikaners, he studies the Afrikaner language in order to reach out to other people.
In 1946 Paton went to Europe and North America to study prison life in order to have the South African system benefit from developments in other countries. During this journey he writes Cry, the beloved country. Friends look for a publisher and find one in the USA and in 1948 the book is published in that country.
It was a joy to read this well written book. At gave me more insight into the situation of South African during the years of apartheid (de jure and de facto). I got the impression that Paton must have been a quiet and peaceful man, who wanted to live his christian convictions, without blotting out in this book his mistakes and his unfaithfulness.
Alan Paton – Towards the mountain, an autobiography – 1980