Kaffir Boy

By: Mark Mathabane


*Introduction* | *Synopsis* | *Key Passages* | *Letter to Author* | *Critical Review* | *Defense*




Kaffir Boy is the life story of Mark Mathabane while living in the apartheid of South Africa. His story goes into great details about how it was like to grow up in the environment that he lived in. Our group, which has five people, all did our responsibilities by composing a written piece for each section of this web page so that it will be easy for you ( viewer of web page ) to read a few things about our book and what kind of experience we had while reading it. We hope that you will decide to read this book for yourself and compare your thoughts with ours.

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Mark Mathabane's Kaffir Boy is a powerfully moving story about his childhood and teenage years living in the apartheid of South Africa. His family was poor and struggled to survive day by day while living in a shantytown which had shacks and only a few decent houses, called Alexandra. Even though it was hell living there, the people put up with it because it was the only place they can work and were allowed to stay at besides the tribal reserves. The tribal reserves were barren pieces of land where nobody can produce much for their family because of poor land structures, no electricity, and lack of other necessities needed to live a close-to-normal life.

Mathabane had a somewhat terrible childhood. He had a no-good father who was an alcoholic and gambled away most of his earnings instead of using it to buy food for his growing family. He also grew up witnessing crimes such as a man being gutted by tsotsis*, viewing violent crimes like his mother getting beaten up by his father and etc. Fortunately, his mother cared about him and his siblings enough to work bent over backwards to send her children to school. She wanted them to get an education so that they can have a secure future. As a child, Mathabane learned how to play tennis and developed a love for the game. He also had a dream of leaving South Africa and going to America for college and to get away from the life in Alexandra. He strived to fulfill his dreams by working hard and taking chances in life to get to where he got.

*Legendary black gangsters of the fifties and early sixties in the mode of the Mafia

By: Daryl Delacruz

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*Key Passages*

The first passage in Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane that caught my attention and made me see a point that the author was trying to make in this book was on page 254.

"You say it so confidently," he said. "What makes you so sure? What if you never go anywhere outside Alexandra for the rest of your life?"... "okay, philosopher," he said. "May I ask how you plan to travel around the world? Not in a time machine, I hope."... "Why is it you want to go places?" he said. "Aren't you happy with the way your life is turning out right here in Alexandra?"

In this passage, Johannes's teacher is talking to Johannes about all his hard work and his goals for the future. This paragraph was interesting because it got me thinking about how bad the teachers were back then. Johannes's own teacher was encouraging him not to reach for his goals or try at all, because he's not going to get anywhere anyway. This is depressing and these people are very bad influences on Johannes and all the other children they taught. I wouldn't be surprised to know that most of the children did not do well in school because of all the discouragement from the teachers. I also congratulate Johannes for still learning, reading and reaching for his goals--even after all those people telling him that all he is doing is completely worthless.

The second passage is on the last page and it lets the reader exhale finally after all the tension, thought and confusion:

I told him never to let the white man define his manhood. I told him to be a fighter, to be resilient, to have patience, to have hope, to take care of our ailing mother, our sisters and out father, whom I sensed he was beginning to hate just as I had done when his age. Déjà vu.

"Forgive Papa," I told him. "He's a good and loving father inside. Learn to understand him and his ways. Learn to understand the pain of his life."

This was the most imperious passage in the book because it showed how Johannes finally became one with himself and finally understood where his father was coming from. It gave him closure. In this paragraph Johannes is about to leave for America and is giving his little brother George a few tips to try to make his life a little easier. Also, this passage gives a sense of relief to the reader. Reading this book, it feels as if you are Johannes and you are the one going through all those trials and tribulations. Then when he finally forgives his father and has no more worries and obstacles in his way, it feels as if you have been holding your breath all the while and you were just told you may exhale.

The last very important point that the author is making through his writing has to do with two different passages. The first one is on page 199:

"Vootsek, off this bus, Kaffir!" thundered the red-necked white driver. "Don't you see this is a white bus!"

Realizing the tragic mistake I had committed, I tried to fly off the bus, but I could not. ...But reality came in the venom the white bus driver was spitting as he reached for the side door to come after me. "I said get off the bus bloody bus, Kaffir!"...Thinking that anytime I would be kicked in the face by the white bus driver, I started begging for mercy.

"Sorry, mei baas," I whimpered, "Sorry, mei baas. Me make big mistake. Forgive me, mei baas. This Kaffir did not know bus for white people."

And the second one is on page 277-278:

Once more I had befriended a white man who didn't fit the stereotype. How many more of his kind were out there? ..."Do you still want us to play together?"

Here was a white man asking me instead of ordering me. Yes, I would play with him.

"And if you like," he said enthusiastically, "we can sometimes play at Ellis Park or other tennis courts in the city."

"But that's against the law," I said

"To hell with the law," he said angrily. "I do what I want to do. I don't believe in apartheid laws, I told you. You're my friend, just like any other white friend I have."

Through these two passages I believe that the author is trying to prove that even though there were many cruel white people who were for apartheid, there were also a few white people who were against the apartheid laws. In the first passage, Johannes accidentally stepped onto the whites only bus and almost got himself and his grandmother arrested. Then there were many events where Johannes spent hours and hours with the other type of white people and he was treated as a human being instead just a Kaffir. In the second passage, Johannes is talking to his white tennis-playing friend Andre and through this one conversation, you can see that not all white people are the same.

The author, Mark Mathabane, wrote this whole book to show the world the ruthlessness of the white people and their apartheid laws in Africa--but he knew that not all white people were like that, so he showed this through his writing. Kaffir Boy taught and showed many ideas. It opened eyes all over the world and is a very inspiring book.

By: Araks Khachatryan

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*Letter to Author*

10- 26- 00

Dear Mr. Mathabane,

Out of all the books ever read by my fellow classmates and I, we unanimously agreed that Kaffir Boy was the most captivating one yet. Recently my fellow group mates and I spent five weeks reading and discussing your astounding work in Kaffir Boy. Your story gives the public a true understanding of apartheid that no author ever dared express.

The true trick to writing a good book is telling a story from the heart. In your book, the pain, the fear, and the struggles create a sense of realism in our eyes. The fact that this is how life in South Africa really was, and that people were treated so cruelly and inhumanly only encourages the readers to keep reading and not put the books down. Authors who can give their readers a reason to read their books all the way through are the true successful writers. I applaud your efforts and success in trying to make your voice heard and the horrors of apartheid seen realistically in this world where people know so little about the subject. It must have taken great efforts to write Kaffir Boy considering how you could have been killed for doing so.

Though it is understandable why you used the intense descriptions in Kaffir Boy to get your point across, I would not have done it to that extent. Unfortunately, schools have banned Kaffir Boy because of the obscene words and descriptions. This is a great loss because the youths of today will not have the chance to read and experience the feelings of apartheid. In the future, someone might want to write a revised version of Kaffir Boy so today's youth will have the opportunity, as I did, to learn the realism of this cruel time in history. The more we know about such things, the less chance we have of history repeating itself with another era of apartheid.

Thank you for sharing your life with the world. I guarantee that my life is not the same after reading Kaffir Boy. Thanks to your efforts the world will have a little more grasp on reality and less racial intolerance.




By: Armineh Derighishian

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*Critical Review*

Kaffir Boy, An Outstanding Book


Kaffir Boy is a very rare book because it is one of only a few books which discusses apartheid and black South African life from the perspective of a black boy growing up in the 70's. Throughout the book there are many sections in which the text contains graphic scenes, which may be too much for the reader who is faint of heart. In one scene black children, ages ranging from seven to fourteen are prostituting. Mathabane describes the children slowly undressing to please the men in order to earn a few measly coins in order to survive. There is also a scene in the book in which the main character, Mark Mathabane himself, witnesses the death of an innocent man as he is hiding in a near by bush. By writing the story in first and second person Mathabane appeals to those readers who like to feel involved with reading and the characters. Mathabanes method helps the reader get a visual of the text and it gives a reader who isn't squeamish more of an impact.

Mathabane has many strong sections in which he describes his dreams of someday becoming free and going to America where he can follow his dreams and be successful. Many readers can be captivated by his strong will and throughout the book Mathabane tried to make the reader recognize his or her own goals and dreams. The reader could also relate to the dysfunctional families and the way the author described his life makes the reader feel as if they are a part of the family angering the reader and letting the emotions flourish making them involved as a part of the family. Kaffir Boy is recommended to those readers who enjoy books similar to autobiographies. Overall this book is filled with excitement and isn't one that could be easily set down.

By: Zareh Ambarsoomzadeh

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Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane is an actual autobiography of the author's life. Throughout the book, Mathabane takes the opportunity to describe in details, the situations, and circumstances that his family lived in. This book has some complex vocabulary words that make it a little difficult for some people to understand. It also has very explicit and graphical ways of describing certain scenes. However, people, especially students, should have knowledge of what others went through because of their skin color. That is one reason why Kaffir Boy should be taught in schools. Teachers should take advantage of this situation and teach their students about racial problems that existed long before we were born. Kaffir Boy is by far the best book that may be used as an example for students because it talks about actual events of a person's life. Students should be exposed to true stories like Kaffir Boy where they can learn something, rather than science fiction stories which do nothing else but pollute the minds of young readers.

If school districts forbid schools to permit students to read Kaffir Boy because of a few scenes, then they are shutting off a great path for students to fill their minds with true facts. They should not ban this book in schools just because it contains a few graphical passages. Instead, they should focus on those passages and the passages that follow so that students would know, in this case, how white people treated blacks.

What Mark Mathabane tries to say in his book is that everyone around the world should recognize racism. It is still a problem in our society today. Thus, if people start recognizing that all humans -whether black or white- are equal, and put an end to useless things such as racism, then everyone would have something less to worry about.

Certain parts of the story focus on the way white people tormented and killed the black people because of their color. Students should read and learn about these things so that they will know that what their ancestors did was wrong and cruel, and hopefully, they will not repeat these malicious acts. They should know what a big role racism played in peoples' lives. Thus, by allowing teachers to let their students read Kaffir Boy, we will accomplish many of our goals. The best part of all is that the story the author talks about is all true.

By: Helen Manvelian

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