Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

by Mark Mathabane
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Kaffir Boy: A Significant Postcolonial Work

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1394

Postcolonial studies and literary criticism examine twentieth century political and social issues resulting from interactions between European nations and the peoples they colonized. Of special concern are humanitarian issues, particularly disparities in the treatment and living conditions between the native peoples and the colonizers who have raped the natural resources...

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Postcolonial studies and literary criticism examine twentieth century political and social issues resulting from interactions between European nations and the peoples they colonized. Of special concern are humanitarian issues, particularly disparities in the treatment and living conditions between the native peoples and the colonizers who have raped the natural resources and wealth for themselves. Displacement and loss of traditional value systems and inequities in land ownership have created volatile, racial imbalance between the majority black populations and white minority legal structure. In South Africa, for instance, the Native Land Act of 1913 reserved only 13 percent of its land for Africans who made up 80 percent of the population. As more and more natives fled to cities like Johannesburg in search of jobs, frightened white political leaders established apartheid, turning their already discriminatory practices into legal injustice. Kaffir Boy takes place in the apartheid-ruled black ghetto of Alexandra.

The autobiography's primary purpose is political. Mathabane's intention is to expose the horrors of apartheid and its violent, legally enforced racism to the rest of the world, and he succeeds. Kaffir Boy provides clear evidence that apartheid has to be abolished. Choosing autobiography as his form is a masterstroke. A short story or novel would have brought the story to a western audience. However, neither would have had the same validity and power as his own true-life experience, especially given the risk to him and to family members who remained in Alexandra. Its 1986 American publication came just a year after pressure from anti-apartheid groups led Congress to match Reagan's mild package of sanctions with a bill calling for a wide range of restrictions on American trade and investment in South Africa. As the first autobiography by a South African native, written in English and published in the west, it played a significant role in enlightening the international community, drawing its citizens into the impoverished ghetto of Alexandra.

The autobiography succeeds in part because of Mathabane's innovative handling of his subject matter. Chapter 1 opens with the first-person expository voice of the adult Mathabane reminding readers that they enter a Bantu (non-white) area at their own risk and are subject to arrest, fines, and imprisonment without a pass. Chapter 2 abruptly forces the reader into the nightmare world of the five-year-old Mathabane who must act as surrogate parent to his younger brother and sister in the midst of a pre-dawn police raid. Succeeding chapters and their events are narrated exclusively by Mathabane, but the voice changes from that of a frightened five-year-old to a suicidal ten-year-old, to a savvy teenager, to an anxious young adult, quietly desperate to escape. As the voice changes in accordance with the experiences apartheid forces on Mathabane, so does the frenetic, often hopeless tone. The resulting mood creates a similar experience for the reader.

Mathabane's first-person point of view is equally important in delineating character and themes. Though he gives his readers the names of each of his six siblings and his father, his mother, who is the central figure both in Mathabane's own life and in much of the autobiography, is identified only as Mama. Having been denied an education because she is a female, Mathabane's mother goes to great sacrifice to ensure his getting one. Illiterate and thus with no access to books and schooling, she creates an oral library with her "riveting stories" culled from tribal traditions, riddles, songs, and folktales. With these and her mesmerizing acting ability, she arms her children with life-saving values: "strive after virtues," "avoid vices at all cost," "prefer peace to war, cleverness to stupidity, love to hate … harmony to strife, patience to rashness." She willingly endures long lines, bureaucratic inefficiency, Mathabane's own rebellion, and, ultimately, physical abuse from her husband, in order to attain a birth certificate and enroll Mathabane in school. Her actions not only make it possible for Mathabane to survive his years in the ghetto but also to escape to freedom in the United States.

Unlike his wife, Jackson Mathabane is a negative character, a human being reduced to an abusive husband and father, as a result of psychological emasculation at the hands of the South African police. He is convinced that the South African white political structure will ultimately force all blacks to return to their tribal reserves. Opposed to education, which he perceives as useless, he forces his children and wife to perform tribal rituals. For Mathabane he is a symbol not only of a lost heritage but of what he too is likely to become if he remains in Alexandra.

Perhaps, the most significant function of Mathabane's first-person voice is the immediacy and suspenseful pacing it gives to the horrors and pitfalls awaiting children growing up in Alexandra. With Mathabane, readers are forced to stave off hunger with soup consisting of nothing but boiled cow's blood. Still starving, they accept an invitation to earn money and food only to run away in horror when they realize that the price is prostituting themselves to male migrant workers. Having escaped becoming a victim, they can't escape the knowledge that other children have already become victims and that still others will be victimized in the future. At barely ten years of age, having endured more than the psyche can handle, they are rescued from suicide by a mother's wisdom and love.

Mathabane's setting provides readers with a still broader view of the inequities in living conditions resulting from over three hundred years of European involvement in South Africa. He varies location and place to dramatize the vast contrasts between the lives of urban whites and the lives of rural and urban blacks. The majority of the action takes place in the one-square-mile, black ghetto of Alexandra where Mathabane spent his first eighteen years. Its one hundred thousand residents have no electricity, running water, or sewers. Most live in poorly constructed one- to two-room shacks. However, a few scenes take place in the posh, white residential section of Johannesburg where Mathabane's grandmother works as a gardener. Several other scenes take the readers to a trash dump where a starving Mathabane, his mother, and his siblings rake through garbage from Johannesburg in search of food, clothing, and furniture. (When Mathabane finds a dead human baby wrapped in newspapers, the trips to the trash dump end.) Another scene takes place in Mathabane's father's tribal homeland where the soil has been rendered so sterile from inefficient farming that Mathabane calls it a wasteland. Others take place at a tennis camp for wealthy whites, and at Ellis Park, site of the South African Brewery tennis competitions that draw top tennis players from all over the world. The brutal inequities between the living conditions and advantages of blacks and those of whites are inescapable.

One might argue that the autobiography's setting is too large and sprawling, attempting to cover too many years and too many events, that its political purpose could have been better achieved by omitting some of the events, especially in the third section. It is true that the political logistics involved in professional tennis competition lack the immediacy and drama of the earlier two sections. However, they offer us a different picture of Mathabane, allowing us to experience vicariously what it is like to be used as a pawn by the whites only to be banned for life from black tennis competition in South Africa. While not as vividly or gruesomely riveting as eating worms or soup made of cows' blood, this third section clearly delineates the extent to which apartheid laws, politics, and big business control every aspect of life in South Africa. They clearly leave Mathabane with no choice but to find a peaceful, safe, and expeditious way to leave the country.

In 1973, critic James Olney observed that "one consequence of apartheid is that South Africa has produced a number of writers and an equal number of literary autobiographies, often in exile." Kaffir Boy adds still another to the existing number, attesting to the healing power of literature and its creation. As such, it is a significant postcolonial work. Its universal themes are broad and many. Like almost all early literary biographies, however, it too demonstrates the liberating power of education and the debt all societies owe to the creative artist.

Source: Lois Carson, Critical Essay on Kaffir Boy, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Carson is an instructor of English literature and composition.

Mathabane's Unshakeable Hope in a Harsh World

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1908

When Mathabane's Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa was published in America in 1986, most, if not all, of those who read it could not begin to identify with the horrors it describes, and it is safe to assume that many could not even fully comprehend them. The brutality, persecution, filth, and unending perils of day-to-day living were too much for some readers to take, too much for some to believe. Yes, there is abject poverty and degrading living environments in America, and, yes, racism still abounds in many areas, regardless of the laws against it. There are sociologists, politicians, teachers, and parents alike who claim that black children do not have the same opportunities to a good education that white children have in America, even at the beginning of the twenty-first century. And there are those who point out that several of the health problems encountered by blacks and other minority groups are largely due to their limited access to good health care, whether because of its high cost or because of a more debilitating, systematic denial rooted in racist programs and policies. None of these legitimate concerns will be argued here, and no doubt will be cast on the sorrowful living conditions that thousands of America's desperately poor endure every minute of every day. Given that, Kaffir Boy depicts a life that even the most destitute families in the free world may find shocking and unbearable.

It is commonly assumed that an individual does not miss what he or she has never had—that if one grows up in the city, then country life is not "missed," or if one is raised on Chinese cuisine, then Italian is not missed, and so forth. This simplified analogy, of course, does not account for the typical human desire to try new things, eat different foods, and live in a myriad of settings that many people experience over their lifetimes; the point, rather, is that human beings must initially accept what they are given, what they are born into. Perhaps this is the only feasible explanation—suspect as it is—that the Mathabanes of the world manage to survive childhood and adolescence and move into their adult lives without ever having known what it was like to grab a snack from a refrigerator, to turn on a television, to hang out with friends without being beaten by the police, to take a shower, to flush a toilet, to sleep in a real bed, and to go to that bed without hunger pangs and rat bites. All these seemingly simple actions would have been luxuries for Mathabane and his family and all the people of the Alexandra ghetto. But they were luxuries the black South Africans never knew, and still they survived—except, of course, for those who were murdered or died of malnutrition and untreated diseases, daily occurrences in Alexandra.

Consider the opposite scenario: take a child, nine or ten years old (or even younger), who has grown up in a relatively "normal" American household and put him in Mathabane's place. How will he fare when the only way to keep from starving to death is to eat fried locusts and worms and a thick soup made from boiled cow's blood? What will he do when his teachers beat him savagely with canes for not having a proper school uniform or not being able to pay school fees? Who will he rely on when his parents are dragged naked from their two-room shack in the middle of the night, arrested and mauled by the authorities, along with dozens of other blacks, for not having their "passes" in order? Will he simply get used to the weekly police raids and, after watching for a while, return to his urine-stained, bug-infested piece of cardboard beneath the kitchen table that he calls a bed?

Many people who have never experienced the inhumane conditions of life under a ruthless, oppressive system of law still claim to understand what it must be like to live that way and to sympathize with the victims. White Americans commiserate with the plight of blacks during the days of slavery, and non-Jews everywhere believe they comprehend the horrors of anti-Semitism during the Holocaust. Rich people feel compassion for the poor and healthy people think they know what being terminally ill must feel like. While all these emotions and beliefs may be heart-felt and well-intended, one individual can never really know the suffering of another unless he or she has personally experienced it. Readers of Kaffir Boy who have not lived as a black person in apartheid South Africa cannot really feel that existence. What an outsider can do, however, is get as close to it as possible through the brutal, no-holds-barred autobiography of a young man who knew nothing else for the first eighteen years of his life.

If Mathabane had written his account in more general terms, in the vague language of newspaper stories or impersonal observations, Kaffir Boy could not land the same shocking blows to naïve readers as it actually does. Words like poverty, racism, oppression, police raids, starvation, brutality, and countless others all fall short of a true description of ghetto life under apartheid. But in telling his story, Mathabane goes far beyond a benign idiom to express the graphic, honest details of day-to-day—sometimes hour-by-hour—living in Johannesburg's most notorious slum. Readers with weak stomachs may have difficulty with the physical realities of having no indoor plumbing. Children are not allowed to use the public outhouse without adult supervision, so they often relieve themselves in the alleyways. Human waste runs through the streets where people walk barefoot and sit on sidewalks. When they return to their shacks, there is no running water, so bathing is not an easy option. Hunger forces Mathabane and his siblings to taste their own nasal mucous, and their grandmother blows her nose into her palms and rubs them together—self-made hand lotion. Some boys in the ghetto offer themselves sexually to older men in exchange for a decent meal, and young girls learn early that their purpose in life is to produce babies for husbands who "own'' them. Grotesque details such as these proliferate throughout Kaffir Boy, and their effect is undeniable. Stupefying and repulsive, yes, but also sobering and educating.

Perhaps there are those who find Mathabane's candid reporting unwarranted or even offensive, but those are likely the ones who need to read it most. When one tries to imagine what it is like to live as the victim of an oppressive government, some cruel atrocities may come to mind, yet pictures of the most despicable actions forced upon the victims are probably not among them. Mathabane does not let the reader escape. His book is like an open wound, fully exposed, one that he will not hide beneath a bandage, but, rather, lets bleed in full view of the public. And while the graphic portrayals of such sorrowful living fill Kaffir Boy from beginning to end, they are still not the most remarkable, most thought-provoking element of the book. Surviving apartheid conditions is truly extraordinary, but doing so with an air of hope and an unshakeable belief in a better future is nothing short of miraculous.

It was Mathabane's mother who instilled in him the will to rise above apartheid and the knowledge that the only way to do it was through education. Though uneducated and illiterate herself, Mama Mathabane told her children stories which contained lessons in morality and human kindness, and through these tales, they learned right from wrong, good from bad. After so many descriptions of horrible events, it is arresting to come upon a passage in Kaffir Boy in which Mathabane relates the things he learned from his mother. He claims, "I learned that good deeds advance one positively in life … and that bad deeds accomplish the contrary. I learned that good always invariably triumphs over evil; that having brains is often better than having brawn." Mathabane also lists the preferences he came to embrace, in spite of the world around him: "I learned to prefer peace to war, cleverness to stupidity, love to hate, sensitivity to stoicism, humility to pomposity, reconciliation to hostility …," and the list goes on. But the most remarkable and most revealing statement in this passage is his testament that "underdogs in all situations of life need to have unlimited patience, resiliency, stubbornness and unshakeable hope in order to triumph in the end.'' To refer to himself and all the members of his downtrodden race struggling with apartheid as simply "underdogs'' is almost too frivolous, but it is indicative of his staunch refusal to become mired in self-pity and helplessness. Like an underdog without a chance in the big game, Mathabane played to win.

Toward the end of Kaffir Boy, in a passage relating a conversation he had with his high school principal, Mathabane makes another statement that seems completely out of place in the midst of appalling details. In confiding his belief that someday he will make it out of the ghetto, out of South Africa altogether, he says, "Maybe I'm just dreaming. But I've had so many dreams come true in my life.…" So many dreams come true? Not nightmares? And this from a boy who has to clean his teeth with a finger dipped in dirty water because his family cannot afford toothbrushes; a boy who is regularly beaten up by neighborhood gangs for not being one of them and a boy forced to crawl into a garbage can full of human waste for the amusement of the men hired to haul it away; a boy whose father has never shown him love (until the end) and who ridicules his enjoyment of books and learning. How can so much humility and thankfulness prevail within the spirit of such a battered and broken human being? How can a young individual shoulder so much pain and misery and still speak of dreams that have come true?

Perhaps this is the secret to Mathabane's survival, or, more importantly, to his triumph. The virtues he learned from his mother's stories were not just idle platitudes that sounded good but held no useful meaning. Instead, the ideas of "unlimited patience" and "unshakeable hope" became ingrained within the very fabric of the boy's soul. And as he grew, those beliefs did not fade, but became stronger and more vibrant, like a light held out before him, beckoning. This is the reason that he is able to tell his principal that he has already had dreams come true. Specifically, he is referring to the good grades he has made in school and the likelihood of securing a scholarship to a local university. But, undoubtedly, Mathabane also means the spiritual awakening he has experienced through the strength of his mother and the true belief in a better life ahead that he sees in her. And it is through his own fortitude and his own undying faith that he is able to get to that better life. Boarding the plane for America at the end of the book is really only the beginning.

Source: Pamela Steed Hill, Critical Essay on Kaffir Boy, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Hill is the author of a poetry collection, has published widely in literary journals, and is an editor for a university publications department.

The Reality of South African Apartheid

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2131

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, many people possess a cursory understanding of South Africa under apartheid. They know that this system of institutionalized racism created laws that kept black South Africans and white South Africans apart in every way possible. The two groups lived in their own neighborhoods, had access to disparate public facilities, attended separate schools, and held different types of job. Black South Africans were unable to vote or take part in government, and they were consistently denied any meaningful educational and economic opportunities. Apartheid drew international criticism in the 1980s, and with its dismantling in the 1990s and Nelson Mandela being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, the basic facts of apartheid are somewhat commonplace. Basic facts, however, do little to express the grueling conditions under which black South Africans lived out their day-to-day existence. Mathabane's Kaffir Boy—published in the late 1980s, when apartheid was still the law of the land in South Africa—chronicles the grim reality inflicted upon the vast majority of blacks living under the apartheid regime, a reality that many foreigners would be hard pressed to conceive of. Oprah Winfrey, who introduced the book to countless American readers through her television talk show, spoke rightly when she noted that "[F]or most people, apartheid is just an abstraction, a symbol of a movement. This book turns the symbol into feelings. You breathe and feel it and live it for yourself.''

Kaffir Boy opens with a brief chapter that introduces the background of apartheid, at the same time, succinctly elucidating the role of black people in South African society. The second chapter—the chapter with which the narrative proper begins—immediately sets the scene of life in the ghettos of South Africa, with its pre-eminent theme of prevalent and arbitrary violence against blacks. A police raid, described by Johannes (Mathabane's birthname), then only a boy of about five, clarifies the extent of the violence against blacks. Johannes awakens to noises from outside: "Sirens blared, voices screamed and shouted, wood cracked and windows shattered, children bawled, dogs barked and footsteps pounded"—all part of a "pandemonium outside [that] was intensifying." During these raids, blacks of all ages are attacked and become the victims of officially sanctioned violence. A policeman's beating of Johannes for the "crime" of delaying in opening the door to the shack fast enough typifies the extreme level of savagery that too often characterizes black life in the ghettoes.

The raid, marking the beginning of "Operation Clean-up Month" and unleashing unprecedented attacks against blacks, also demonstrates the seeming randomness of the actions against blacks. Not only do the policemen brutalize defenseless children, they round up non-whites who have committed any multitude of offenses: these so-called criminals include "people whose passbooks were not in order, gangsters, prostitutes, black families living illegally in the township, shebeen [neighborhood bar] owners, and those person deemed 'undesirables' under the Influx Control Law." According to apartheid laws, most of the people living in Alexandra—including Mathabane's mother—would be subject to arrest and possible deportation to the homelands. The severe punishments to which the blacks are subject do not coincide to any comprehensible degree with their transgressions. For instance, in this raid, the elder Mathabane, who is guilty of several passbook offenses, is sent to labor on a white man's farm for two months. After another raid, Johannes's father is again arrested, this time for committing the "unpardonable crime of being unemployed,'' and he is subsequently imprisoned for almost a year. During his long absence, the family, lacking food and money, resorts to the direst means to survive. The children scrounge for food in one of the city dumps where the refuse from white people's homes is brought; collect eggs rejected by the chicken factory, many of which contain dead embryos; or eat locusts, worms, or soup made of cow's blood.

The seeming unreality of these raids, with their dire consequences, is underscored by Mathabane's matter-of-fact description of how he and the other children react to the police presence. Barely six years of age, Johannes already sees Peri-Urban as a "tormenting presence," yet one that he "came to accept … as a way of life." Though terrified by the police raids, to such an extent that he wakes up screaming from nightmares, Johannes is forced to be complicit in the raids out of sheer necessity; that is, like all the children in his neighborhood, he quickly comes to recognize police cues that indicate that a raid is about to take place and learns how to "fabricate ingenious lies to prevent them from searching the house." Mathabane recalls that "[w]henever we were out at play we were expected to act as sentries." However, he also acknowledges that his fear rendered him essentially useless in this role. All of these grim details Mathabane records in a realistic, unflinching tone, hardly the point of view that most young children are forced to assume. While he is still a boy, Johannes comes to realize that "black people had to map out their lives, their future, with the terror of the police in mind."

Mathabane's narrative also makes clear the surreal and arbitrary nature of the apartheid laws. A prime example is when Johannes accompanies a migrant worker to see the superintendent of the ghetto after the man is caught breaking a housing law. Johannes's intercession, spoken in the superintendent's native Afrikaans, is the only reason that the migrant worker does not get deported from Alexandra. Johannes notes that when the superintendent begins to question him, the "tone of his voice suggested that hitherto he had been bored, but that I had … injected some excitement into the otherwise routine job of interrogating and sentencing a black Influx Control offender." The superintendent not only overlooks the migrant worker's crime, he even allows his family into the ghetto, which is an almost unheard of privilege. This incident clearly shows that, in the hands of white authorities, the black laws are mutable because they are based on no just criteria.

Johannes's growing awareness of exactly what apartheid means in the day-to-day world also demonstrates its surreal yet pervasive nature. One day Johannes boards the bus for white people, a mistake that could get him and his grandmother sent to prison or even killed. To appease the irate bus driver, Granny uses her dress to wipe the steps upon which Johannes had climbed. After the incident, Granny yells at Johannes for his carelessness. "'But Granny, I only stood on the steps,'" Johannes points out. "'I would have understood had I sat on any seat.'" Johannes questions the logic of the white law and the "enormity" of the "crime of standing on the steps of a white bus." He wonders, "Were the poor white passengers going to die as a result?" Johannes's remark and his inner speculation are telling. With his words and thoughts, he reveals the levels of severity of racial segregation and the indoctrination that everyone in South Africa—blacks and whites—undergoes to accept the peculiarity of apartheid. Granny proceeds to explain apartheid to Johannes, using two phone booths, one a white phone booth and one a black phone booth, to demonstrate the separateness of the races. Johannes notes that "the two phone booths were exactly the same in all respects—colour, size, and shape."

Throughout Mathabane's childhood, the South African government continues to create new laws that inflict further damage on black society. The government passes Influx Control laws that prevent black families from residing together in White South Africa and keeps as many blacks as possible out of the cities. The government announces its plans to demolish the Alexandra ghetto and transform it into a location where only barracks housing single men and women, who worked for whites, could live. Though this dismantling of the ghetto ends up not taking place for a number of years, this policy demonstrates how apartheid laws not only served to prevent Africans from bettering their lives but even more heinously, as a mechanism to break up families and their ties. Many other elements of society show this. Men migrate to the city, while their families remain behind on the tribal homelands. One boy whom Johannes meets on the Venda tribal lands has a father who has not been home in seven years. There is no other option for existence for these men. As Mathabane points out, despite the "threat of persecution and deportation if found, and the fact that Alexandra was being demolished," waves of men continue to arrive in the city. Mathabane particularly comments on the plight of the migrant workers, characterizing them as the "walking dead." These men, writes Mathabane, suffer from a "death far worse than physical death … the death of the mind and soul, when, despite toiling night and day, … you still canot make enough to clothe, shelter and feed your loved ones, [who are] … forcibly separated from you."

Although the Mathabane family remains together in Alexandra, apartheid still works its nefarious effect on them. Jackson Mathabane's arrests have made him irrevocably embittered. As Mathabane writes in his preface to Kaffir Boy, "They [the architects of apartheid] turned my father—by repeatedly arresting him and denying him the right to earn a living in a way that gave him dignity—into such a bitter man that, as he fiercely but in vain resisted the emasculation, he hurt those he loved the most." After his prison experience, the elder Mathabane has the greatest difficulty fulfilling the emotional needs of his wife and children. Johannes recalls one night when he brought the children home fish and chips to eat. In their excitement, "George and Florah ran up to my father and embraced him. He blushed; I could see he was happy. My mother smiled. That was one of the few times I was to see our entire family happy." Unfortunately, this moment is fleeting and rare; within a short period of time, Jackson Mathabane's "metamorphosis" into a man who no longer allows his children to hug or kiss him or even say goodnight to him. Johannes "came to fear him, to fear even the sound of his voice, even the sight of his shadow … Came to spend days and nights wishing he were dead."

Mathabane's narrative is filled with other details that show the abject poverty and deprivation of life in the black ghettoes of South Africa. However, the alternative to the ghetto is by no means attractive either. As a boy, Johannes returns to his father's tribal reserve for a visit. The Venda homeland appears as a wasteland, with clouds of dust rising from the dry soil and the occasional livestock grazing on the few stubbly bits of grass. "Everywhere I went," Mathabane recalls, "nothing grew except near lavatories." It is also a place without adult males, for most of the men who lived on tribal reserves migrated to the city, where they remained eleven months out of the year, to work.

After Johannes is introduced to a world in which all whites do not hate all blacks, he is able to give voice to the experiences of his childhood. He tells the Smiths about what life is like for him and other blacks.

I told her about the indoctrination that took place in black schools under the guise of Bantu Education, the self-hatred that resulted from being constantly told that you are less than human and being treated that way. I told her of the anger and hatred pent-up inside millions of blacks, destroying their minds.… I would have told them about the ragged blacks boys and girls of seven, eight and nine years who constantly left their homes because of hunger and a disintegrating family life and were making it on their own: by begging along the thoroughfares of Johannesburg; by sleeping in scrapped cars, gutters and in abandoned buildings; by bathing in the diseased Jukskei River; and by eating out of trash cans, sucking festering sores and stealing rotting produce from the Indian traders on First Avenue. I would have told them about how these orphans of the streets, some of them my friends—their physical, intellectual and emotional growth dwarfed and stunted—had grown up to become prostitutes, unwed mothers and tsotsis, littering the ghetto streets with illegitimate children and corpses. I would have them all this, but I didn't; I feared they would not believe me.

With the autobiography Kaffir Boy, Mathabane at last is able to tell his story to a world that will believe him.

Source: Rena Korb, Critical Essay on Kaffir Boy, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Korb has a master's degree in English literature and creative writing and has written for a wide variety of educational publishers

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