Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa is a 1986 memoir by South African writer Mark Mathabane, telling the story of his youth in South Africa during apartheid.

The story opens with an expository explaining the nuances of the apartheid system in South Africa, in which it is set. Mathabane takes care to note the paternal rationalizations for apartheid used by the government:

Yet the white man of South Africa claims to the rest of the world that he knows what is good for black people and what it takes for a black child to grow up to adulthood.

Mathabane attended school despite his family's poverty and his own reluctance. He attributes to his mother and grandmother both the financial and intellectual incentives to do so:

I think my mother's and Granny's storytelling had had the same effect upon me when a child, as the reading of books: my mind was stimulated, my creativity encouraged.

As a young adult, Mathabane leverages his tennis prowess to move to the United States. However, he feels separation from the family he left behind. This is juxtaposed against the greater suffering experienced by others:

There is a death far worse than physical death, and that is the death of the mind and soul, when, despite toiling night and day, under sweltering heat, torrential rain, blistering winds, you still cannot make enough to clothe, shelter and feed your loved ones, suffering miles away, forcibly separated from you.

Though an autobiography, Mathabane issues a clarion call for an end to apartheid, a system that was still in place at the time he penned Kaffir Boy.

Let us not rest until we are free to live in dignity in the land of our birth.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access