Book I: Chapters
Kumalo has dinner at the Mission House with Msimangu and some other priests. The priests tell him about how white people in Johannesburg are afraid of black crime. Later, Kumalo tells Msimangu about Gertrude, who had gone with her small child to Johannesburg to look for her husband, who had gone to work in the mines. Msimangu tells Kumalo that his sister has become a prostitute and lives in Claremont, one of the worst areas in the city. Kumalo explains about his son, and Msimangu promises to help him find him. He also takes him to the home of Mrs. Lithebe, where he is given a room for his temporary stay.
Msimangu and Kumalo go to Claremont, where Kumalo finds his sister. He tells her he has come to take her and her child back. She consents, and Kumalo arranges for them to take a room in Mrs. Lithebe's house. He is relieved and feels he is beginning to rebuild the tribe.
Kumalo buys some clothes for Gertrude and the boy. Then he and Msimangu begin the search for his son. First they visit John, Kumalo's brother, who explains how different life is in Johannesburg than in Ndotsheni. He prides himself on making a decent living as a carpenter and being a man of influence in his community. He explains his political views to his brother, about the social inequalities between black and white, the poor pay in the mines while the white people get rich on their labor. He tells Stephen that his own son is friends with Absalom, and says they are both working in a factory in Doornfontstein. In Doornfontstein, Msimangu and Kumalo find that Absalom left the factory a year ago. They are given the name of a landlady, but she tells them Absalom is not there, and there are hints that he has got into some bad company. She gives them another address, c/o Mrs. Mkize in Alexandra.
The next morning, they plan to take a bus to Alexandra. But the black people are boycotting the buses because the fares are too high. Kumalo and Msimangu decide to walk the eleven miles, but when they have gone several miles a white man gives them a ride.
They arrive in Alexandra, which is a mainly black, high crime area. Mrs. Mkize tells them that the two young Kumalos left a year ago. She seems fearful, and Kumalo knows that something is wrong. Msimangu goes back to the house alone, and the woman explains how the Kumalos used to bring stolen property back to the house. She does not know where they have gone, but directs them to a taxi-driver who was friends with them. The taxi-driver tells them that Absalom has gone to a place called Orlando, where he lives with the squatters in Shanty Town. Msimangu and Kumalo take the taxi back to Johannesburg.
These chapters begin to explore the social problems that accompany the breakdown of the old black culture. Crime, alcoholism and prostitution flourish in the impoverished sections of Johannesburg. The different approaches to solving the problem of social breakdown and racial inequalities are also addressed. John Kumalo takes the political approach. He rejects the Church because it takes no concrete action, and he has managed to build up a powerful position for himself as an advocate of social justice for the black mineworkers. But Msimangu thinks Kumalo is corrupt. Like other black leaders who get some power, he simply uses it for selfish ends. Msimangu's approach to the problem is more religious and focuses on individual change and the power of love. He says, "Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power" (chapter 7). The only hope he sees for South Africa is when white and black men decide that they are interested not in power or money, but in the welfare of the country.
Throughout the novel, there are small incidents that show the situation in South Africa to be not entirely hopeless. In chapter 8, this is shown in the generosity of the white man who goes out of his way to give Msimangu and Kumalo a ride to Alexandra.