Kaffir Boy, The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, by Mark Mathabane is a sobering look at what it meant to grow up as a black male in the 1960’s and the 1970’s in abject poverty of Alexandria, South Africa during the Apartheid. Mathabane’s autobiography takes the reader on an intense journey from early childhood to High School graduation. It graphically tells the story of: white racism against poverty stricken blacks fighting for daily survival; the effects of malnourishment, domestic abuse, and fighting the system; and the difference education and exposure can have on the most likely of people.
There where several of Mathabane’s realities that I found interesting. First was his view of white people that was formulated through watching movies (Mathabane, 53). The exposure to the Christianity from a white crusade tent (Mathabane, Chapter 9). The affirmative view and use of a witchdoctor, even after receiving the Gospel message (Mathabane, 74). The plight and cycle of the system that works against the poor, Mathabane’s birth certificate. (Mathabane, 118). The transformative effect of education (Mathabane, Chapter 21-25). The power of exposure to a new white world that Mathabane had never experienced. (Mathabane, Chapter 30). Also the power of sport, like tennis and the athlete’s that play like Arthur Ashe (Mathabane, Chapter 38). The power of America as a promised land, as Mark first converses with friend Andre Zietsman (Mathabane, chapter 46). Then the incredible door opening relationship with Stan Smith, resulting in a full ride scholarship to be the first black South African boy to go to college in America on a tennis scholarship.
The book for me was eye opening to a world that I know nothing about. The pains of poverty: lack of food, shanty living, no indoor plumbing, no bed, fighting for an education. The pains of racism: police brutality, unlawful entry by white police in the early morning hours, harassment in the form of fee-based legislation and permits to work, live, just exist. The pains of domestic abuse: out of work father, spousal abuse, strained parental relationship. Last, the pains of prejudice: just because of the color of your skin you are discriminated against and the world is stacked against you. This book was a sober insight into the plight of so many.
On a very positive note, it also demonstrated how the incredible power of influence an affluence can be leveraged to change somebody’s life, as Stan and Marjorie Smith did for Mark Mathabane. The Smith’s showed true kindness and compassion by spending and investing capital into a young man they saw promise in. The Smith’s took time to acknowledge Mark as a player, invited him to eat and listened to Mark’s story, then used relational connection to make Mark’s dream of coming to America and receive a college education a reality. I have always loved Stan Smith as a player and have worn and wear Stan Smith Adidas, but this book took Stan to a whole new level for me. Stan showed how one individual can live out values in a real way, in a real world, to make real change. I want to use whatever ability and power I have to be a Stan Smith to a Mark Mathabane.