La Guma’s portrayal of the white group of people and the white leader are as inexorable and repressive characters throughout the short story, the author depicts the group of white men as a group of racist tormentors, who commits actions that highlights and presents a microcosm of the inhumanity of the apartheid. Their actions and attitudes towards the coloured man makes their character so intolerable yet compelling.
In the beginning of the story, it is expressed by the author that the white group of men holds more power against the black man. The white leader is presented to be wearing “an old shooting jacket” (conjuring up an image of a hunter) and has his shotgun loaded -implying that he is prepared to kill-. The portrayal of the white leader as a hunter with a shotgun not only brings out a sense of violence, power and murder but also indicates that the coloured man is being treated like an animal. A dramatic irony is displayed when La Guma further demonstartes how the coloured man is being treated inhumanly when the white leader offers the pricey sum of five pounds to Meneer Maris for the watchdog Jagter. He then says that he “would take great care of such a dog”. This is dramatically irony and indicates that the lantern-bearer probably treats a dog better than the coloured man, a human being. This further illustrates the values and attitudes of the white group of people (they think that it is perfectly acceptable to brutally treat people of colour). More crucially, when describing the white group of people, the author writes “they could not be seen in the dark” (signifying anonymity) this evokes a sense of horror and menace, as we cannot identify the perpetrators behind the beating and threatening, also because this suggests that the leader can easily be somebody else administering the beating, thereby indicating that racism is wide spread amongst the society and that large swathes of the white population hold racist view- the white leader is just a representative character of the white population-. The white leader is later described as having eyes which are “hard and blue like 2 frozen lakes” the use of the diction “frozen” suggests that he is inhuman, cold and emotionless. It is particularly interesting that the white leader’s character has an extremely wide range of rich vocabulary when it comes down to denigrating the coloured man. The repetition of repugnant terms creates a sense of revulsion- “verdomte hotnot”, “kaffir”,” bliksem”, “hottentot” etc.- and the casual tone being used communicates to readers that he finds not wrong in using these repugnant terms. His attitudes towards the coloured man builds on his compelling character.
Whist undergoing all the torture from the white group of people, the coloured man remains dignified throughout the short story making sure that he does not show a sign of cowardice through his actions. This is first shown when the coloured man refrains from shivering in the cold “in case it should be mistaken for cowardice” even though he was scared and nervous: “drops of sweat began to form on his upper lip”. when the coloured man refuses to answer the white leader’s query of whether he is cold because his fear is mixed obstinacy which forbids him to answer them. We admire this quiet dignity and courage. ‘He was afraid the leader would shoot him in anger and he had no wish to die” yet “he straightened up and looked away from them”. Our admiration for the coloured man’s courage grows as the story unfolds when he answers the lantern bearer’s query of whether he is cold. He answers, “yes baas” with a mixture of “dignity and contempt”. Here, the coloured man seems to be granting the leader the respect he wants in answering him, but clearly, the coloured man is responding to the leader’s demand not because he is granting him respect but because he is “afraid that the leader would shoot him in anger and he had no wish to die”. In fact, the contemptuous tone in his voice makes it evident that he does not respect the whites. This makes the coloured man a mentally strong and admirable character.
Knowing that white group of people could potentially kill him, the coloured man remains dignified throughout the story making sure that he does not show a sign of cowardice through his actions. It is possible that la Guma is trying to highlight the mental strength that some individuals of colour had when faced with adversity. If anything, the real coward in the short story is the leader of the group of white men. He has to use his shotgun to enforce his power and will on the coloured man.