The novel is set during a fictional civil war in which black South Africans have violently overturned the system of apartheid. The story follows the Smales, a liberal White South African family who were forced to flee Johannesburg to the native village of their black servant, July. Maureen tries working with the women in the fields, digging up leaves and roots. Afterward, she goes to see July, who is working on the bakkie.
When July says she should not work with the women, she asks if he fears she will tell his wife about Ellen. He angrily asserts that she can only tell Martha that he has always been a good servant. Maureen, frightened, realizes that the dignity she thought she had always conferred upon him was actually humiliating to him. He informs her that he and the Smales have been summoned to the chief's village. Though July has authority in his village, they still must ask the chief's permission to stay. Maureen struggles with her new subservience to July.
After Gina goes to play with Nyiko and Bam goes with Victor and Royce to fish, a helicopter with unidentifiable markings flies over the village.