Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Reverend Theophilus Msimangu
The Reverend Theophilus Msimangu's first name comes from the Ancient Greek meaning "friend of God" (source). This name makes total sense for Msimangu's character. After all, he's a wise and holy man who ends the novel giving up all of his possessions so that he can dedicate himself more completely to God. The novel also claims that Msimangu's decision to become a monk is "the first time that a black man had done such a thing in South Africa" (2.29.153), which is further proof that the novel considers Msimangu an extraordinary Christian.
Like Arthur Jarvis, Msimangu often seems to act as a speaker for the social views of the novel itself. His lines of dialogue sometimes sound like they are coming straight from the book's third-person narrator. Consider, for example, his speech to Kumalo after they have met with John Kumalo for the first time:
But there is one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it. (1.7.83)
This emphasis on the power of love to bring people together no matter what the color of their skin could be a direct quote from the ending of the novel, and the comment that appears to come from both the narrator and from Kumalo's internal thoughts, that, "such fear could not be cast out, but by love" (3.36.50). The fact that Msimangu speaks this message of love so early in the novel indicates not only his wisdom, but also his identification with the feelings and ideas of the novel as a whole.
Obi-wan Kenobi, Remus Lupin, and… Theophilus Msimangu?
Okay, clearly Msimangu is a much more serious character than, say, Remus Lupin (for example, we definitely can't imagine Msimangu using a Marauder's Map to pull pranks), but he does fulfill a similar narrative role as Kumalo's mentor and guide in Cry, the Beloved Country.
As a literal guide, Msimangu invites Kumalo to come to Johannesburg in the first place to rescue Gertrude from moral sickness (which is how he views her bootlegging). He leads Kumalo, first to Gertrude and then to John. Msimangu is also the one who first starts picking up hints that Absalom may be in real trouble, but he nonetheless takes Kumalo to Absalom's former reform school, to his old home in the Shanty Town, and finally to the prison where Absalom is being held for murder. Without Msimangu's help, we imagine that Kumalo would still be in Ndotsheni, with no idea of the fates of his brother, sister, or son.
As a spiritual guide, Msimangu has an even more profound effect on Kumalo's character. Kumalo finds Msimangu's preaching at the center for the blind at Ezenzeleni to be inspiring. As Kumalo watches the blind residents of Ezenzeleni weaving baskets for sale, he realizes that, rather than giving in to despair, they are supporting themselves through useful work. He admires Msimangu's part in preaching to these people to keep their hope and not to fall into despair. When Kumalo returns to Ndotsheni, he follows Msimangu's example by becoming involved in local projects to improve the livelihoods of the people in his community.
Why Does Msimangu Keep Saying He's a Bad Guy (When He So Clearly Isn't)?
Msimangu is obviously a good guy in Cry, the Beloved Country. He is a priest with a strong sense of social justice, and he helps Kumalo even though he doesn't have to. So why does he keep saying things like, "I am not kind. I am a selfish and sinful man" (1.5.44)? We think he's trying to avoid the Christian sin of pride; his characterization draws attention to this book's strong criticism of arrogance and personal gain.
Compare Msimangu to a guy like John Kumalo. The book clearly identifies John as corrupt, because he uses his power over people to improve his own reputation. John's voice "has magic in it" (2.26.2), but John uses that magic to frighten people so that they will listen to him. By contrast, Msimangu also has a "golden voice" (1.13.39), but Msimangu uses his voice to preach sermons in faith in God and belief in the future of South Africa.
What keeps Msimangu from using his "golden voice" in the same selfish way that John uses his powerful voice is that he "talks humbly [and] there is no pride or false constraint" (1.13.42). Like Kumalo, Msimangu does not overestimate his personal importance to the world. He is willing to work in the service of the things he believes in, without demanding personal recognition or applause.