“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.