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Paton, Alan

south african party government

(South African, 1903–88)

Paton began his career teaching at Diepkloof reformatory for young black offenders before joining the South African Liberal Party of which he subsequently became chairman. Even after the party was disbanded in 1968 he dedicated his life to the principles of liberal politics. He is primarily known through his best-selling novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), published the same year as the Nationalist government came to power and later made into a successful film. An African priest from the rural reserves travels to Johannesburg in search of his son, Absalom, and is catapulted into a world of racial hatred, abject poverty, crime, and a corrupt judicial system that have subsequently come to characterize apartheid South Africa. He is finally reconciled with his son, but Paton's liberalism will not allow him to envisage any real alternatives to the oppressive regime; a change of heart for his characters is the most we can expect.

In Too Late the Phalarope (1953) a young male Afrikaner has illicit sex with a black woman, and his father disowns him. This moving story exposes the horror of the Immorality Act imposed by the Nationalist Government in 1950 which legislated against people with different coloured skins having sexual relationships. Paton also wrote short stories, biography, two volumes of autobiography, and numerous political and religious pamphlets.

Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Christopher Hope  EW

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