Chained To Your Past? Or Not…
“One of the apartheid’s chief aims was the elimination of competition between black and white, invariably to the benefit of whites.” Therefore the government designated land for both groups but the whites reaped the benefits because they received the lands with natural wealth. The blacks had to settle for the poorer lands, which was also in small proportions. We should also note that during the economic depression, the government spent 644 rands annually for white children’s education but 42 for a black child. In this week’s reading for our doctoral program at Portland Seminary, we were tasked with reading an inspiration book called Kaffir Boy.
In this book, Mark Mathabane tells his autobiography of life in apartheid South Africa. The reader journeys with the author from childhood through high school, which is a very graphic story of poverty and white racism. “More than 90 percent of white South Africans go through a lifetime without seeing firsthand the inhuman conditions under which blacks have to survive.” However, Mathabane was a youth during the time of the apartheid and gives his story as an eyewitness of the challenges growing up in that era. While this book is inspirational, it was not accepted in high schools until after the revisions to remove controversial sections. There were different types of controversies but the most surprising one was found in sports among his own race. After taking an interest in tennis, Stan Smith pays for Mark to participate in the South African Breweries’ Open but the problem is that black tennis players boycotted the event. Mark’s action seemed like a disrespect to the black tennis association so he received a lifetime ban.
Mark grew up in Alexandra, which was always being raided by police who sought bribes for those who did not have a pass. The people experienced great brutality by the police such as kicking or sending the men to Modderbee, which was a maximum-security prison where they’d eventually become violent men. The South African government also demolished shacks and forced the blacks without a proper pass to leave Johannesburg. Life in Alexandra was predictable and chapter 4 gives us a highlight of this predictability. I will highlight these days starting on Tuesday because it made sense this way.
- Tuesday: The butchers sold meat and the women sold roasted maize.
- Wednesday: This was their gambling day as the Chinese man picked up the bets and announce the winners for fahfee.
- Thursday: The kitchen girls (maids) and kitchen boys (cooks) went to town because this was their day off.
- Fridays: This was payday for the black men and women so they would return home from their jobs but the tsotsis (gangsters) would rob or murder them.
- Weekends: It was common for people to drink to either forget or find comfort for their hard lives.
- Mondays: This was the day people used to recover from the hangovers in preparation to repeat the process.
As routine as this might have seen, this was just the beginning of terror for Mark and his family. After his family was forced to a shack on Thirteenth Avenue and hit hard times, Mark found a dead baby in the dumps as the searched for food. It was common for women to dump their babies because the nannies and maids were not allowed to get pregnant. The author says he “sought to paint a portrait of my childhood and youth in Alexandra, a black ghetto of Johannesburg, where I was born and lived for eighteen years, with the hope that the rest of the world will finally understand why apartheid cannot be reformed. It has to be abolished.”
Interesting facts during Mark’s life in Kaffir Boy
- The Bantu (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act of 1946 prevented whites from entering the area
- Mark had always feared his father but when he saw the police brutality against him, he learned to hate. This was quite interesting because Mark’s dad was violent and yet he had more hate for the police. We also learned that the police also at least twice kicked Mark (another sign
- Mark wets his pants a lot
- Much like Jamaica and other countries, the police take bribes in exchange for a ‘blind eye’ for your transgressions.
- In chapter 7, Mark had a dream which his mom interprets as a glimpse of his future
- Hitting three and four-year-olds in the head with a flashlight seemed normal
- The typical way to treat fire burns is urine (ask Florah in chapter 13)
- It was illegal for blacks to own houses in South Africa
- Mark learns never to eat from strangers. The stranger gave him some food and when his mom placed some in a bowl next to a rat hole, they woke up and found the rat dead
- Mark was arrested for being in a white neighborhood after 10 pm curfew but released when the police officers were convinced he was a student
Mark lived a painful life until his escape from apartheid because of sports and education. My life is not comparable to Mark but my family endured struggles during the 1960 and 1970s in Jamaica. I remember the days growing up in Jamaica where I had to choose when if I would eat my slice of bread in the morning or evening because that the only meal I would have for the day. Sometimes I would play chess or ping pong for lunches if I could not get to the fruit trees. Like Mark, education was my escape from the poverty-stricken life to the American culture. We can choose to be chained to our past and the feeling of inadequacy or seize every opportunity.
 Welsh, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, 56.
 Mathabane, Kaffir, 146, Kindle
 In Jamaica, we also had people in the area who sold meat such as salt mackerel or ackee and salted. While our life was more about poverty and less about segregation, I connected the poverty-stricken life of my childhood.
 The game is pronounced fahfee but its real name is Fafi (fa-fi), which is an illegal numbers game found in poor neighborhoods. Usually, betters pick three digits to match randomly selected ones.
 Mathabane, Kaffir Boy, ix.
13 responses to “Chained To Your Past? Or Not…”
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Thanks Garfield for sharing parts of your life story’s in Jamaica, which is somewhat similar to Mark Mathabane life in apartheid South Africa.
The great exception is stated in your open sentence. “One of the apartheid’s chief aims was the elimination of competition between black and white, invariably to the benefit of whites.” Any way we state it or read it, it is a form of injustice.
As Martin Luther King state ,“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” On that quota we end out final semester together in this format.
It was an honor and a great opportunity have shared learning experiences with you for the past two years. Thanks for allowing us to see beyond the surface, you are now marching on to your great destiny. Blessings, Rose Maria
It was indeed a pleasure being in this cohort with you these past years. Thank you for continually sending words of encouragement, birthday greetings or whatever you believe would put a smile on our faces. One of the things you suggested in your response is that we fail to acknowledge the indirect ways our actions affect other people. Years later, we can see how Martin Luther King’s behavior enabled so much more for someone like me who wasn’t even born in this country. Mark’s story most definitely became a voice for so many more.
Thank you for being a part of this cohort.
Garfield, I have glimpses of your life story from previous interactions, but I do not have the full story. You are indeed a highly gifted musician, and I am so glad that you were able to pursue your education in America. You and your wife have so much to give to the Body of Christ, and I am glad that we have been able to share this DMin journey. I can’t wait to read your dissertation as it also relates to my area of study. Thank you for your persistence and for staying the course despite the challenges that attempted to derail you from seeking your God-given potential.
Thank you for being a great source of information throughout this cohort. My upbringing has enabled many unfortunate experiences but I’ve used those as motivation. My wife and I laughed the other day because we realize that by sharing all our experiences now could offend many people. I wonder how Mark felt while writing his autobiography.
In any event, I’ve been having lots of fun researching this dissertation on cultural intelligence and worship. It should be ready in no time.
Another exceptional post with pertinent insight. I agree we do not have to be chained to the past. You mention that education was part of Mathabane’s freedom to a new world. What part did religion and the local church play in his being set free, from your estimation?
Why did only 90% of white South Africans know of the plight of their fellow neighbors? Was it a blinded eye, lack of exposure, or content in selfishness?
Thanks for the feedback. While we see Christianity in both the negative and positive light, I’d like to focus on the positive. Mark’s mom became a Christian because she wanted to benefit from the perceived materialism such as good jobs. Mark started to believe God watches over him and started attending church, although he never fully accepted religion. His mom eventually landed a decent job and became kinder. These series of events, coupled with his dream that his mom interpreted leads me to believe that hope remained alive.
Thank you for this Garfield. I admire how your mind works. (jealous really)
You and your blogs have added so much to our cohort. A huge part of all of our learning these past couple of years would have been missing without you and your contributions. Thank you my friend! Looking forward to SA.
Thanks for the kind words but you always provided an alternative approach to our readings. I’ve actually learned to adjust my perspective based on the experiences of each one in the cohort. After reading our book on ethnography, I became intentional in practicing on these blogs to become more sensitive to culture, especially since my dissertation is on cultural intelligence. Thanks for your clear perspective these last two years as a vital member and family of this cohort.
If I may ask a personal question: given your comment about when to eat your piece of bread, and that for a while you were homeless, do you ever find “food security” fears bubbling to the surface? Perhaps another way of asking this: do you ever get over that childhood experience?
My childhood experience is a great part of my motivation to connect with culture but I also use it as motivation to ensure my family would never experience my childhood. Becoming aware of CQ has challenged me in how I engage people and live in this country. We never had food stamps or governmental support so it’s sometimes difficult to understand that the inability to eat steak or shrimp freely has to do with financial stability. Sundays were our biggest meal of the day and it probably would have been chicken breast or beef. In America, cabbage or collard greens are served as vegetables with your meal but in Jamaica that would be a meat substitute Monday through Friday and served with boiled dumplings and bananas as a complete meal. Today, June 25, 2017, the US to Jamaican dollar conversion rate is $1US to $128.58 Jamaican. The idea that an employee at Dunkin Donuts could be a millionaire in Jamaica is fascinating in itself so I believe I’m no longer chained to the past.
I can feel how motivated you are to make sure your family is fed – that’s powerful.
Thanks for another great blog. You have a way of enhancing our learning experience in the Dmin program by your graphic visualizations and your multi-talented endeavors. What inspired your educational goals and devoting your life to serving the Lord in such a creative way? I’m glad our lives have intersected; I am the better for it. I’m looking forward to seeing you again on yet another continent. South Africa should be an impactful experience.
Thanks for the kind words. You’ve continued to inspire us as a cohort with your intellectual blogs. The uniqueness of this cohort is that God has wired us uniquely to have an effect on each other so we could impact our world. My educational goals stem from the fact that I love to teach and believe everyone learns differently. I’m not sure how each person learns so by including visuals, I try to be sensitive to those who may read my post for years to come. If my words didn’t challenge the reader, I trust the visuals will provide a perspective I could’ve missed while writing or even spark an interest in the reader. Our book on ethnography has also challenged me to become intentional in using visuals. Thank you for two wonderful years thus far.