Kaffir Boy Themes
The themes of this book are the brutality of apartheid and the power of education. Mathabane is a black person born in South Africa during apartheid, and, during his childhood, he experiences extreme poverty, police brutality, and limited opportunities as a result of the racist ideology of apartheid. His parents, who are both from tribal reserves but who live in a ghetto called Alexandra, cannot get the right permits to get good jobs. They also don't have the benefit of an education because they are poor and black. Mathabane manages to prevail against overwhelming odds to get an education and go to an American college on a tennis scholarship; however, most of the black people around him face lives of extremely limited opportunity because of apartheid.
Mathabane believes in the power of education to help himself and his family. His mother is a relentless optimist who keeps urging her 7 children to get educations. Those around them who aren't educated wind up begging or existing as parts of street gangs as a result of their limited opportunities. Because Mathabane persists in school and learns English, Afrikaans, and other subjects, his future is brighter, and he is able to win a scholarship to study in America.
The themes that are present throughout the autobiographical novel Kaffir Boy include racism, classism, perseverance in the face of oppression, and individual choice. Mark Mathabane struggles with having to endure both racism and poverty in apartheid-era South Africa. While impoverished, Mark still manages to complete his primary education and earn a scholarship to pursue his secondary education. While discovering his talent in tennis, Mark must endure obstacles to playing and rising through the levels that his white tennis-playing counterparts don't have to endure. While Mark is able to access white-only tennis spaces, doing so puts him at risk and forces him to choose between his personal goals and the rest of his black community, unable to access the same spaces and opportunities. Mark ultimately chooses to break a black boycott of a tennis tournament in order to pursue his own goals. Mark makes his own choices and ultimately is able to leave South Africa and pursue further education in the United States. The cost of his individual-oriented decisions is losing his black community; however, Mark ultimately succeeds in his goals.