Explain the voice of the main characters of Kaffir Boy. What positions are they taking? What is the larger commentary that is being made by the author through these character?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mark Mathabane narrates this story to give voice to his experience as a Black South African. He writes at the beginning of the book, "The white man of South Africa certainly does not know me" (page 3) and explains that he wrote his story to give voice to what it was like to grow up black in South Africa under apartheid.

His story explains what it's like to grow up crushed by fear, as he is when the white authorities show up outside his door when he is a child. The reader understands the fear that Mark and his family feel as the police raid their house, and the reader also hears the callous and brutal voices of the police, who refer to the scared children as "bastards."

The reader also gains insight into the thoughts and voices of other characters. For example, despite this brutality, Mark's mother still prays to her ancestors, though he feels that "no amount of prayer could stop the police from violating our lives at will" (page 30). Mark's father, on the other hand, "existed under the illusion...that one day all white people would disappear from South Africa" (pages 31-32). As a result, Mark's father rules his family, according to tribal law, with an iron fist. The parents have different ways of dealing with apartheid--the mother takes a position of prayer and passive resistance, while the father uses brutality and force within his own family to maintain a sense of control. Later, Mark learns about apartheid, in part from his Granny, who tells him about white people: "We're their servants, they're our masters" (page 201). Mark's grandmother takes the position of hoping that one day, a new generation of Blacks will wrest control from the whites, even though the whites have all the guns. 

The larger commentary made by the author though the voices of these different characters is that there are different ways to resist a brutal system such as apartheid. Mark eventually resists the system and finds a way out by being a good student and becoming a great tennis player. Inspired by Arthur Ashe, Mark proves himself as a black man in a white world. The other characters, including his parents and grandmother, deal with oppression in different ways. It was ultimately through resistance, which Mark's grandmother advocates, that apartheid was destroyed. 

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