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Kaffir Boy

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Kaffir Boy:

The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

By: Mark Mathabane

Nykki Smalls

Independent Africa

April 23, 2008

Dr. Jackie Booker

After a careful analysis of this book, I have come to understand that the main thesis of Kaffir Boy, the autobiography of Mark Mathabane, a young black who grew up in Alexandra, a ghetto of South Africa, is one of identity. Throughout the book Mathebane finds himself asking what race, religion, country and class do I or should I belong to? Mathabane explains that he had to reject his parents' religious and tribal heritage and leave South Africa to survive the reality of apartheid, affirm his racial heritage, and individual identity as an independent human being. Yet despite the fact that he strips away many of the most noticeable elements of South African life, at the end of the book Mathabane claims he can never escape his culture or his country. The question of whether this is true becomes more apparent throughout the book as it becomes clearer how separate Mathabane keeps himself from other black South Africans. In the book he resents any ideas that he had rejected African culture and allowed white culture to shape and/or define him. Rather than that, Mathabane strongly believes that every decision he makes (and the elements of black and white culture that he accepts or rejects) is self-determined exercises of independence.

The book Kaffir Boy is the true story of Mark Mathabane's struggle with Apartheid growing up as a black person in South Africa. The book is divided into three parts. The first part is mostly about Mathabane's childhood, and it describes many of the harsh realities of life in South Africa. In the second chapter, Mark details one of his early encounters with whites. He tells about an early morning raid on the shantytown in which he lives. His mother deserts the house, leaving Mark, six at the time, to watch over his little sister, Florah, who is only 3, and his baby brother, George. What follows is a shocking example of the police brutality in South Africa. The police raided the shantytowns looking for blacks who did not have their "passbooks" in order. Under the laws of apartheid a passbook was similar to a passport and all blacks were required to carry them. They were also required to keep these books "in order" or up to date, which was virtually impossible for many of these people. To keep them in order they had to go to offices with every official paper they had ever been given. Many times they would wait in lines for hours just to be sent home again to get a different paper. This was impossible for the blacks to do because it would involve missing days of work. This would usually result in termination, but allow me to continue with the summary. The police eventually come across Mark's shack and demand that he open the door. When he hesitated, they beat him. This is an important part of the book because it is the first time the whites instill a deep fear and hatred in Mark.

Soon after this raid, his father is laid off from work and, unable to get a permit, he is arrested for being unemployed. His father is subsequently sent away for a year while his family nearly starves to death. To keep from starving, his mother takes them to a nearby dump to dig for leftover food that white people had thrown away. One day at the dump, Mark finds something wrapped in brown paper, and thinking that it is a good piece of food, his mother digs it up. When she unwraps it she finds that it is actually an unwanted newborn baby that someone just wrapped up and threw away. Incidents that happened, such as these, brutally illustrate the harsh living conditions that many people endured living during the Apartheid era in South Africa.

I think the most important part of the book begins when Mark starts school. Although he fights his mother and grandmother because he does not want to go to school, he eventually realizes that he is a very good student and consistently ranks at the top of his class. In order to attend school, Mark had to obtain some sort of paper. He and his mother stood in line for hours one day to see the man who would give them this paper. They ended up getting turned away to go home and bring his birth certificate from another office. This other office in turn tried to send them away saying they had to visit the first office. This episode was significant because it was Mark's first encounter with a kind white person. After leaving the second office dejected, his mother pleaded with a white nun to help them. The nun went into the office and in a matter of minutes obtained the documents they needed. I believe this is the beginning of Mark's perception that not all white people are bad.

Schools influence on Mark was great. He stopped running around with the trouble makers in his neighborhood and began reading books that his grandmother brought him. She got these books from another kind white woman whom she worked for. It was also during this time that Mark started hearing news from America about successful black people such as Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. After hearing that Ali had beaten a white man in boxing, Mark wanted to try and be a boxer too. He went to a practice rink where (for lack of a better phase) he got his �butt kick’ and quickly gave up on the idea of boxing. Another American athlete, however, had a much greater influence on him. Arthur Ashe was a famous American tennis player who inspired Mark to take up tennis. Tennis became his passion, along with school. Through tennis he met many nice white people and began to understand Apartheid in a way that many of his fellow blacks could not. After obtaining a job at a tennis ranch for whites, Mark became good friends with the proprietor of a ranch, Wilfred. Wilfred was a German living in South Africa and after hearing Mark's stories of life in the ghettos, he was stunned. He asked Mark to speak at his bar that night and tell his story to other whites. The whites listened in stunned silence as Mark told his tales. This is the first time that Mark acted as a spokesman for the black South Africans. To many of the people living around Mark, he had become a traitor. Through tennis he had many white friends with which he would play tennis with. This caused him a lot of trouble. He would receive death threats, and was very nearly killed during one encounter with former friends. It is important to look at how Mark seems to embrace white culture in this book. It was very interesting



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