The nameless narrator is joined by other voices in a kind of Greek chorus. They tell of how the brokenness of the land and people leads directly into Johannesburg. People go there in droves, and they are constantly in search of a room in which to stay.
A nameless room-seeker asks a nameless woman if they would be able to rent a room. She initially refuses, saying that there is already no privacy in the house and no amount of money can dissuade her, but after listing off the family’s many expenses as compared to their income, and haggling a higher rent, she agrees.
We see the beginning of the unbreakable cycle that leads to the shantytowns. In need of money, homeowners take on lodgers, who have nowhere else to go.
The house is full. These unhappy, nameless people do not like their landladies, their lodgers. Roving eyes cause great discomfort. The house is full, the family who owns it wishes to throw the lodgers out, they beg to stay until they can find a house, but to get a house they must get off a list, and they have no money to bribe the authorities. People are given one week, then thrown out. There are no rooms, people are seduced, people have bad experiences, but there are so many expenses. There is no place for anyone to live. They decide to put up their own temporary houses made of found materials, a shantytown. Others call this foolish, because what will happen when rain comes? Or winter? But the list is so full, thousands of names. A woman wants to bribe an authority to put her higher on the list, but she doesn’t have enough money. They need a house, but they cannot afford the bribe.
Everyone is waiting for a house, but there aren’t enough, and there’s a long list, and to get off the list you must have money for a bribe, which no one does. Lodgers are miserable, the homeowners are miserable, but no one has any real choice. The shantytowns are the natural result of this—they are something like homes but not quiet, but they cost nothing, which is what people need when there is nowhere else to go.
The woman decides to move to the shantytown. It goes up overnight, and since there is no rent, it fills with people. One of the woman’s children is sick. As she gets sicker and sicker, her mother sings to her, reminisces of the natural beauty of the land where they came from, turning into cries of fear. The child is dying. A man assures the mother that the doctor will come in the morning. Outside, people sing “God Save Africa.”
A woman with no other choice moves to the shantytown. Cold and wet, her child falls ill. She tries to comfort the child with stories about the beautiful land from which they had come. The people sing “God Save Africa,” but this seems cruel in light of the situation.
The sick child dies. The shantytowns grow and grow, puzzling and then angering the white population. The chorus asks again: what will happen in the rain and winter?
The shantytowns are deadly and dangerous, but inevitable, fed with people, they continue to grow. Whites, having created this situation, still react with confusion and rage.