In a classroom of the black Zolile High, Mr. M referees a student debate contesting that women should not receive the same education as men. In favour is Thami, one of Mr. M’s favorite and most promising students. In opposition is Isabel, a white student visiting from an all-girls school. Mr. M sees potential in the intellectual pairing of Isabel and Thami and brings them together as a team for the state wide English literature competition. As they prepare under Mr. M’s tutelage, Isabel gains immense respect and admiration for Mr. M and forms a deep friendship with Thami. Outside the classroom, Mr. M’s hopes for Thami are challenged by their generational divide and increasing political unrest under the South African government’s policy of apartheid. Thami quits the competition when he joins a student movement to boycott the school until blacks are given an education equivalent to that of whites. The tradition-bound Mr. M regards Thami’s actions as destructive and cooperates with the white police by informing against the boycotting students. Thami’s comrades retaliate; a mob approaches Zolile High School, intending to kill Mr. M for his betrayal. Thami tries to help Mr. M escape by offering to vouch for Mr. M’s innocence, but Mr. M refuses the protection of a lie and stands his ground. The mob kills him.
Isabel struggles to comprehend why it seems the black community is tearing itself apart. She sees Thami one last time after Mr. M’s murder. Thami plans to flee the country to avoid arrest so that he can continue fighting against apartheid.