Mark Mathabane was born October 18, 1960, in Alexandra, a black ghetto just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. His parents gave him an official Afrikaans name, Johannes, and a tribal name, Thanyani (‘‘the wise one’’). As a child, he lived in an unheated two-room shack where the children slept under the kitchen table on makeshift beds of newspaper and cardboard. There was no electricity, no running water, no sewers or indoor toilets. The family suffered from bitter cold and hunger. They lived in constant fear of brutal police raids designed to enforce apartheid (the legalized segregation of blacks and whites) through intimidation and violence. At five, as the caretaker of his younger siblings during his parents' absence, Mathabane was often forced to roam the ghetto for food and an outlet from boredom. Unfortunately, food was scarce, often nonexistent, while boredom could easily, often dangerously, be alleviated. Only his keen intellect and superb athletic abilities enabled him to survive. During the Soweto riots of 1976, he took the name Mark Mathabane (and later, Pierre Mark Mathabane), in order to disguise his identity from the white South African government.
In 1978, Wimbledon champion Stan Smith helped Mathabane secure a tennis scholarship to Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina. He later transferred to St. Louis University, Missouri, and then to Quincy College, Illinois, before graduating from Dowling College, New York, in 1983. Inspired by the autobiographies of Richard Wright and Claude Brown, Mathabane began to write his own. Initially published by Macmillan in 1986, Kaffir Boy became a nation-wide bestseller, selling more than two hundred thousand copies by 1989. Its translation into seven languages has secured Mathabane's reputation not only as a writer but also as a humanist and public speaker. Recipient of both the 1986 Christopher Award and a 1996-1997 White House Fellowship, Mathabane helped design President Clinton's education initiatives. He was the speaker for the 2001 Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Award and has appeared on numerous television shows. His fifth book, Miriam's Song, was short-listed for the 2001 Alan Paton award.
Mathabane has published five works of nonfiction. Kaffir Boy is the story of his first eighteen years, growing up under apartheid. Kaffir Boy in America relates the story of his college experience and the beginning of his writing career. Love in Black and White, co-written with his Caucasian wife, Gail, is the story of their friendship, courtship, and marriage. African Women presents the first-person accounts of Mathabane's grandmother, mother, and his sister Florah's experiences living under apartheid. Miriam's Song chronicles his sister Miriam's coming of age in Alexandra, South Africa.
Mathabane maintains a web page at http://www.mathabane.com/index.html with links to numerous speeches, essays, prefaces, and first chapters of his books—including three recent novels: Ubuntu, The Last Liberal, and Deadly Memory. He is the director of multicultural education at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon.
Did this raise a question for you?