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

by Mark Mathabane

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What is the author's philosophy in Kaffir Boy and is it credible?

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Mark Mathabane, the author of Kaffir Boy, believes that a person should behave with strength and determination and stand by his or her own beliefs. His story of life as a black child in apartheid South Africa includes many scenes of poverty and extreme degradation. In one description of his life as a young boy, he is called a fool by other boys for refusing to prostitute himself for food and money, although he is almost starving. He writes,

Throughout all the years I lived in South Africa, people were calling me a fool for refusing to live life the way they did and by doing the things they did. Little did they realize that in our world, the black world, one could only survive if one played the fool, and bided his time.

Mathabane's story lends credibility to his perspective. He refuses to debase himself, as others do, even when starvation seems the only alternative. By the end of the book, through determination and a little luck, he ends up overcoming his harsh circumstances.

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In Kaffir Boy, what do you think are the author's beliefs? Are they credible? What part in the book supports this?

Mark Mathabane published Kaffir Boy in 1986, when the apartheid system of strict racially based segregation was still South Africa’s official system. His personal belief and one of his express purposes in writing the book was the abolition of apartheid. In the book’s Preface, he states his conviction that apartheid could not be reformed but had to be abolished. The fact that the system was later abolished supports his views.

This first volume of his memoirs covers the period from his birth in 1960 until he left South Africa in 1982 to live and study in the United States. The book focuses on his personal experiences of discrimination and poverty under apartheid. It effectively conveys the injustice of institutionalized racism that all people labeled “black” and “coloured” endured in those years. In addition, Mathabane lived during some key events with which apartheid governments tried to hold onto power. These include Nelson Mandela’s sentence of life imprisonment beginning in 1964 and the Soweto uprising of 1976. As apartheid was dismantled, with full democracy instituted in 1994, leading to Mandela’s election.

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In Kaffir Boy, what do you think are the author's beliefs? Are they credible? What part in the book supports this?

Mark Mathabane, the author of Kaffir Boy, believes that the apartheid regime in South Africa was inhumane, and that more people should know about it. The preface states explicitly that the book is meant as an in-depth answer to people's questions about what it was like to grow up as a black child under apartheid. Evidence of the regime's cruelty appears throughout the book, especially in the first section, "The Road to Alexandra." In this section, Mathabane is a young child who lives in constant fear and degradation. In the opening scene, for example, he is cruelly beaten by police officers.

Mark Mathabane also believes in the importance of education. The second section of the book, "Passport to Knowledge," describes the author as an older child receiving gifts of books from a liberal white family. The woman who gives Mathabane the books is condescending, but the books themselves help him improve make more sense of his world. Without the education he received from books, Mathabane would never have been able to escape from South Africa.

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