An American, Arthur Ashe was the first black male to win at Wimbledon. His South African match with Jimmy Connors fuels Mathabane's dream of becoming a great tennis player. Even though Ashe loses the South African match to Connors, he provides Mathabane with evidence that blacks can succeed not only in the game of tennis but also in breaking long-standing racial barriers. Ashe becomes Mathabane's role model and his inspiration.
Aunt Bushy is Granny's teenage daughter who still lives at home with her mother. She pays for her nephew Johannes's school trips and gives him lunch money on a regular basis.
Granny is Mathabane's maternal grandmother. "Her genial brown eyes had the radiance of pristine pearls. She was, I think, the most beautiful black woman I ever saw," says Mathabane. An excellent and experienced gardener, she is forced to raise her children alone after her husband leaves her for another woman. She works ten hours a day, six days a week, for white families in Johannesburg. She is a tower of strength to her daughter and her grandchildren, opening her home as a refuge from Jackson Mathabane's abuse. Most important, it is Granny who secures work for the eleven-year-old Johannes with the Smiths of Johannesburg. With her, he makes his first trip into the city and the unknown world of white wealth. There he is introduced both to the game of tennis and to the world of books and literature.
Horn is a German immigrant who runs a tennis ranch for whites who are training to become professionals. After learning about the ranch from one of his teammates, Mathabane requests an interview with Horn who invites him to participate in matches at the ranch. For the first time, Johannes is not only able to practice and play tennis with athletes of superior caliber but also to compete with and establish friendships with whites. The year is 1973. Realizing that there could be serious repercussions from white South African officials if they discover that he, a black athlete, is playing tennis with white athletes, he gives his name as Mark Mathabane rather than Johannes—probably in an attempt to disguise his true identity from apartheid officials.
Dinah is the sixth of the seven Mathabane children and Johannes's fourth sister.
Florah is the second of the seven Mathabane children and Johannes's first sister. She is only three when the autobiography begins and shares a cardboard bed under the kitchen table with her five-year-old brother. He is expected to look after her when their parents are out of the house and to keep her quiet during police raids when his parents hide or flee the house for their safety.
George is the third of the seven Mathabane children and Johannes's only brother. He is only one when the autobiography begins. As with Florah, Johannes is expected to look after George when their parents are unable to.
See Mark Mathabane
Linah is the youngest of the seven Mathabane children and Johannes's fifth sister.
Mama is Mathabane's mother. Her given name never appears in the story. Originally from Gazankulu, the tribal reserve of the Tsongas, she is married to Jackson, a man twenty years her senior. Although they are legally married, the white apartheid government does not accept their marriage, forcing them to hide or escape from the police who make surprise night raids on the homes in Alexandra. Despite Jackson's abuse, she cannot leave him because her father has already spent the bride price he paid for her. A "mesmerizing storyteller," her "stories served as a kind of library, a golden fountain of knowledge where we children learned about right and wrong, about good and evil," says Mathabane. Determined that Johannes will have an education, she wakes him at 4:00 A.M. on three separate mornings to walk long distances and then stand in line for hours to get a birth certificate that will permit him to attend school. Pregnant with her fifth child, she secures a cleaning job in order to help pay school expenses. Her determination keeps him in school. Her values, instilled through her nightly storytelling, shape the humanitarian and writer he becomes. She is the heart and soul of the family.
Maria is the fourth of the seven Mathabane children and Johannes's second sister.
(The entire section is 1922 words.)