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 was life like under apartheid for Africans in Kaffir Boy?

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Clearly, one of the things that this incredible work of literature does is to paint a very realistic vision of the kind of struggles faced by black Africans in South Africa during the time of apartheid. In particular, the text clearly acts as a crushing indictment of the abuses of power and how whites seized power and oppressed the black majority. The policies of separation and the ghettos that developed as a result, and the way in which basic freedoms such as the ability to travel around freely were curtailed clearly points towards the hardships faced by black Africans as a whole. By focusing on Mathabane and his family and the kind of lack of opportunity that they experienced in their life, the text gives a personal story of the struggles experienced by so many.

However, it is interesting that within this, it is clear that there is another form of inequality that operates in addition to the discrimination that is legally enforced at the government level. African tradition and tribal culture clearly promotes gender inequality, as women are identified as being of lesser worth and significance compared to men. Given the practice of paying a bride price to secure wife and children, women are treated less as human and more as property. The sad and tragic example we are given of this gender inequality that operates within the wider framework of racial inequality is that of Mathabane's mother, who is shown to be locked in a loveless marriage because her father has already spent all of the money he received as a bride price but also because she would be unable to leave her daughters behind unprotected to face their father alone.

The realities of life in this novel for blacks are therefore presented in all of their bleak reality, however we can identify that the discrimination faced by women in particular was worse than that faced by men.

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