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Summary of Kaffir Boy

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After escaping the overwhelming persecution of apartheid South Africa, Mark Mathabane shares his experiences there in his memoir, Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography. Apartheid, a system which legalized racial segregation, lasted nearly 50 years, from 1948 to 1994. Kaffir, defined as “infidel”, was a term used as a racial slur towards the black South Africans who were persecuted under apartheid legislation. Mathabane grew up as a young black man during this time in one of South Africa’s destitute ghettos, Alexandra. Tenacious, stubborn, and incredibly strong-willed, he found strength through a love for learning, his family, and his people. Mathabane’s documented challenges in obtaining tedious legal documentation, avoiding violence, and escaping immense, cyclical poverty illustrate the systematic oppression enforced upon South Africa by racist apartheid policy.

Before apartheid, Europeans, predominantly from the Netherlands, migrated to South Africa in the 17th century. Seeking a sense of culture, these white settlers adopted the term “Afrikaner” to describe their racial identity. Afrikaners felt superiority over other races and set out to transform the South African government into a republic that prioritized white citizens. The promotion of Afrikaner Nationalism became the catalyst for apartheid. Dr. D.F. Malan led the movement as the head of the National Party, winning the general election in 1948 with the slogan, “Apartheid.” Malan unabashedly proclaimed his intentions: “Black and white compete in the same labor market. The task is to make South Africa a white man’s land.” The National Party institutionalized segregation through apartheid, first classifying each citizen according to a complex racial catalog set forth by the Population Registration Act of 1950 . Lower-class races, with black being at the absolute bottom, were subjected to cruel, controlling policies to ensure subservience and maintain white superiority.



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