The main characters in Kaffir Boy are Mark Mathabane himself, who begins to love tennis and school under the apartheid regime in South Africa and who wins a scholarship to attend college in the United States in the late 1970s. The other main characters are Mark's parents--his mother, who is a strong woman who tries to encourage her children to attend school and tries to care for her children (Mark and his sister, Florah) in the difficult environment of apartheid. Mark's father insists on using traditional means of child rearing to keep his family together and to maintain control in the chaotic situation in which he has to operate. Granny, Mark's grandmother, encourages him to one day find a way to resist the apartheid regime.
The minor characters include Stan Smith, who encouraged Mark's tennis playing and who arranged a tennis scholarship for Mark in the United States. The Smiths are an English-speaking white family in Johannesburg for whom Granny works as a gardener. They provide Mark with books and tennis rackets and introduce him to tennis. Arthur Ashe is an American tennis player who inspires Mark, and Scaramouche is a colored tennis player who encourages Mark and tells him that sports will soon be integrated. Wilfred Horn is the owner of the Tennis Ranch; he allows Mark to play there, though it is technically illegal for Mark to do so, and he pays for Mark's tournament fees.
Mark/Johannes Mathabane Author and narrator who breaks social barriers and beats apartheid and poverty. With help from his family, he becomes educated, pursues the sport of tennis, and becomes a successful business man.
Arthur Ashe The first black male to win at Wimbledon. Ashe proves that blacks can succeed in sports and in breaking racial barriers.
Granny Mathabane's maternal grandmother. With her, Johannes makes his first trip into the city and is introduced both to tennis and literature.
Wilfred Horn Runs a tennis ranch for whites.
Mama Mathabane Mathabane's mother. She provides him with education and moral values.
Papa Mathabane Mathabane's father. An uneducated laborer, he is often abusive.
Mpandhlani A homeless, thirteen-year-old gang member who represents victimization in apartheid.
Peri-Urban Alexandra police squad that terrorizes, abuses, and arrests residents.
Uncle Piet Granny's teenage son who buys Johannes school clothing.
Sacaramouche Johannes' first tennis coach and mentor.
Clyde Smith The Smiths' son whose racist taunting challenges Mark.
Stan Smith Tennis champion whose financial support make it possible for Mathabane to pursue his dreams.
Mr. Wilde Gives Johannes a scholarship.
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