By the time Alan Paton died in 1988, his book, Cry, the Beloved Country, had sold over 15 million copies. It is testimony to a writer with a passion for his country, his nation and freedom above all.

Did you know?

Cry, the Beloved Country has been made into two films, one released in 1951 and another in 1995.

The opening lines of the South African novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, are among the most famous words ever penned by a South African author.

They read: 'There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.'

The genius behind these words was Alan Stuart Paton, who started out his professional life as a science teacher at Ixopo High School.

Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg, on 11 January 1903 of English parents who held liberal political views.

He studied physics at Natal University and taught at Ixopo and later Maritzburg College in Pietermaritzburg before taking up the position of principal at Diepkloof Reformatory for young black offenders in Johannesburg in 1935.

The reformatory was a joyless institution and he worked hard to transform it into a place where boys felt they were able to create a future for themselves. He was to remain here for 13 years until he got the opportunity to travel abroad to study penal institutions in the United States, Canada and Europe.

It was during this time that he completed Cry, the Beloved Country which was published in New York 1948 and its success allowed him to resign his position and concentrate on writing (during his lifetime it sold 15 million copies).

In many ways, the novel was prescient, in that it told the story of the hardships experienced by African people under the weight of unequal socio-economic conditions prevalent at the time, even before the formal policy that became known as apartheid came into being.

After 1948 when the National Party was voted into power, Paton took up the political cudgel and was a founding member of the non-racial Liberal Party in 1953. The party was disbanded in 1968 when the government outlawed non-racial political activity.

Paton also famously testified in mitigation at the trial (known as the Rivonia Treason Trial) of former president Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress leaders in 1963. The accused were at risk of receiving death sentences but instead were handed down life terms, in part due to the likes of Paton who supported them during this time.

Alan Paton’s dream for the country was 'a great, peaceful South Africa in which the world will take pride, a nation in which each of many different groups will be making its own creative contribution'.

Had he lived until 1994 and beyond (he died in 1998), he would have seen his dream starting to take shape.