The Dube Train by Can Themba
In The Dube Train by Can Themba we have the theme of indifference, bravery, apartheid, control and unity. Narrated in the first person by a young male narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Themba may be exploring the theme of indifference. Despite the young woman being hassled by the tsotsi there is really nobody to help her. There is a sense that those on the train would prefer to turn a blind eye to the activities of the tsotsi. It is as though he is allowed to run riot on the train without anybody interfering with or approaching the tsotsi to condemn his actions. That is till one woman blocks his way as the tsotsi is chasing the young woman through the carriage. If anything the one woman shows more strength than any of the men on the train. Something which some critics might think is ironic. However Themba may be deliberately using the female character to suggest that a woman can be a man’s equal. Something which is very much the case in the story. The fact that the woman shows no fear could also be significant as it may suggest that she has seen it all before. There is nothing that she is afraid of nor is there anything which will surprise her.
There setting of the story may also be important as the reader can learn a lot from the fact that the narrator (and everyone else) is travelling in the third class compartments. During apartheid all black passengers has to travel by third class. They were not allowed to venture further on the train. It is for this reason that the third class compartment would normally be full and as such a sight that the narrator does not like. It is as though he is being forced to travel third class solely based on the colour of his skin and for no other reason. In fact he has no option but to travel third class. It may also be significant that the third class compartment is in such bad shape. It is possible that those who have an obligation to look after the interior of the train do not place any focus or importance on the condition of third class apartments. Which in many ways mirrors how black South Africans may have felt during apartheid. They too were forgotten about under a strict white regime.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The big black man who fights the tsotsi may symbolise strength. Similarly the woman who initially intervenes with the tsotsi shows an element of strength. The young girl herself though quiet for most of the story may symbolise man or the tsotsi’s desire for possession or control. In fact the young girl is only really treated as an individual when the woman intervenes. Prior to this the tsotsi feels as though he can claim the young girl as his own personal property. Which may leave some readers to suggest that that just as white South Africans mistreated black South Africans so too is the tsotsi mistreating the young girl. If anything Themba may be suggesting that at times power and control can be colour blind. It is also possible that Themba through the woman is highlighting that South Africa is not united. The woman pleads with others to help her but everyone except the big man remains were they are on the train.
The fact that the big man intervenes says a lot for him. There is a chance that he may be killed yet he still tackles the tsotsi. Tackles him in a manner which insures that there will be no more problems on the train. It is also interesting that those in the train clap in agreement with the big man’s actions. Yet these same people remained silent when the tsotsi was causing all the problems. Which may be the point that Themba is making. He may be suggesting that people will back the side of a winner when the opportunity arrives. However they will themselves do nothing to ensure that those who they have backed will win. Something that may leave many reader to suspect that Themba is making reference to the political landscape of South Africa at the time the story was written. In general apartheid rule was accepted by society even though it was an unjust and an unfair form of governance. Which will only be defeated should it be challenged just as the woman and the big man challenged the tsotsi. As to whether Themba is suggesting that there should be a violent revolt against apartheid is difficult to say but he may be suggesting that there should be unity between black South Africans. Just as there was unity between the woman and the big man on the train. Clapping in agreement will not necessarily bring about the required change that was needed in South Africa at the time.