Education is an important topic in Mark Mathabane’s autobiography because when he was growing up in South Africa, the apartheid system made it very difficult for a black child to get anything close to an adequate education. The experiences Mathabane relates, however, extend far beyond attending school.
The role of African traditional culture, which Mark (previously Johannes) learned from his mother, also played a significant role. His mother could not read but had learned and transmitted the cultural information orally. From his mother, he also learned optimism about his own place in the world and the possibilities for black Africans in their country, which helped counter the negativity his father held and expressed.
Mark’s burgeoning interest in tennis also plays a key role in his development. He learned the value of discipline and perseverance, as well as seeing from the inside the many levels of injustice that apartheid imposed. The controversies around his place in integrating the sport, as contrasted to the continued segregation imposed by South Africa, are at the book’s core. The support and encouragement of Stan Smith, a white American tennis player, helped create the confidence Mark needed to advance in the sport as a profession. His decision to accept a unique place in competition, as opposed to boycotting until the entire sport desegregated, set him on a fateful journey that ultimately took him away from his homeland.