Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa is authored by Mark Mathabane. The playwright narrates how he was brought up in overwhelming poverty and received education in cruel boulevards and the most distressed ghetto of South Africa, where bloody gang battles and midnight police incursions were common. Similar to other kids born into the despondency of Apartheid, Mark learned to earn a living at a tender age. Mathabane’s family, however, equipped him with a hard-won education, hence enabling him to raise himself from the humiliation and nastiness to acquire a scholarship to venture into education at an American university. Indeed, this amazing life’s memoir under Apartheid is a victory of humanity over horrifying deprivation and hatred. Certainly, this novelist has achieved something that anyone who is troubled psychologically and physically could not accomplish.
In my view, Mark Mathabane has portrayed a remarkable story of his infancy and up to the time he became prominent as a humanitarian, lecturer, and journalist. The manuscript indicates that he grew up in horrifying shantytowns in Alexandra outside Johannesburg, the capital city of South Africa. Within these municipal slums, Mark survived and witnessed the most oppressive Apartheid period, during which the government of South Africa oppressed the populace through racism and police brutality. For instance, before he started his explanation, Mark tells the audience that the term kaffir is a derogatory term used by white South Africans to refer to the blacks. This terminology is synonymous with the term nigger. Mathabane confirms that he has been referred to as kaffir in more than one instance.
Kaffir Boy offers the audience the story of his life under Apartheid, and also how he fled from South Africa to start schooling at an American university, leaving his family alone. Mathabane’s firm honesty is the book’s main strength. In particular, “The Road to Alexandra” provides a relentless representation of meanness and viciousness. Starting from the first page, Mathabane explains the distressing personal costs of institutionalized racism, demolished personal security, destroyed families, unending physical suffering, and psychological distress. Although this novelist does not address the reader directly, his story indicates what occurs when racial brutality is not tamed. He also does not shy away from disclosing his personal failures, interacting with crews, fighting with his father, and thinking he is hated by all whites. Precisely, Mathabane puts up a good fight against racism in the second half of the book, thus conquering hatred from whites and succeeding in judging people individually.
The information contained in Kaffir Boy relates to Charles Andrew Gallagher’s examination of the contemporary and historical factors influencing intergroup relations, ethnic inequalities, and perceptions of ethnicity and race. Indeed, Gallagher shows that blacks are mistreated by whites as they are considered inferior. Written during the final years of Apartheid, Kaffir Boy reminds me of things that occurred during this era. The treatment accorded to the blacks is terrible and it forced Mathabane’s acquaintances and family to resort to horrible alternatives. Also, the book outlines the standard ways and practices of coping with Apartheid. However, it is fascinating to read about Mathabane’s escape from the Bantu ways of life through education and tennis, helping relieve tensions created by the death of Steve Bilko. Moreover, the book has helped me to view Apartheid through his eyes. I assume this book is trying to help the audience realize the suffering that people endured particularly when they are victimized based on prejudice.
This story reminded me of another story, the Jim Crow era in the southern United States was one of struggle—not only for the victims of violence, discrimination, and poverty, but for those who worked to challenge (or promote) segregation in the South. Various individuals, organizations, and events played key roles in shaping history; equally important are the experiences of those who have lived to tell their own tales. There are many stories of Jim Crow. We do not have to go too far. Begun in the late 1980s when several historians connected to the Center for Documentary Studies met to address their concerns about the relatively static historical interpretation of the age of segregation, Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South is a major research project investigating the complex realities and lived experiences of African Americans through first-person testimonies.
There are many compelling first-hand accounts by people who experienced, endured, and survived Jim Crow. None of the following people is famous, but all are noteworthy in their unique abilities to face—and, often, thrive under—extremely difficult circumstances. They told their story!
Did Apartheid/Jim Crow really end? I was born in the south, experience the Jim Crow era and there are many other living in the south with similar experiences, that have left them holding the same world views, ideologies, self-identity and belief systems that our forefathers held? Today, I realize that I could still be a prisoner of the Jim Crow south, but due to my International traveling experience with various cultures, the level of education, and being a doctoral student which has broadened my worldview. However, the south is still holding prisoners, because their mindsets, which have not changes. It’s our own thoughts, our own mind that oppresses us, our assumptions that limit us, making prisoners of us.
Maybe the author’s intended message was to caution all communities about practicing prejudice since it has so many casualties, but what is the real story behind the story?
. Eric J. Morgan, “Black and White at Center Court: Arthur Ashe and the Confrontation of Apartheid in South Africa.” Diplomatic History 36, no. 5 (2012): 815–41.
. Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa (New York: Macmillan, 1986).
. Allan A. Boesak, Black and Reformed: Apartheid, Liberation, and the Calvinist Tradition (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015).
. Charles Andrew Gallagher, Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012).
. Donnarae MacCann and Yulisa Amadu Maddy. Apartheid and Racism in South African Children’s Literature 1985–1995 (New York: Routledge, 2013).
. Raven Arungumar Kvalsvik, Remembering Apartheid. Investigating Resistance in Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy, masters thesis, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, 2015.
. Medalie, David. “Remembering Life under Apartheid with Fondness: The Memoirs of Jacob Dlamini and Chris van Wyk.” English in Africa 43, no. 3 (2016).
. Gallagher, “Rethinking the Color Line.”
. Xavier Livermon, “Soweto Nights: Making Black Queer Space in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Gender, Place & Culture 21, no. 4 (2014): 508–25.
. William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad Gallagher, eds., Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South (New York: New Press/Lyndhurst Books, 2001); Educational Broadcasting Corporation, “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories.html.
Boesak, Allan A. Black and Reformed: Apartheid, Liberation, and the Calvinist Tradition. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015.
Chafe, William Henry, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad Gallagher, eds. Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South. New York: New Press/Lyndhurst Books, 2001.
Gallagher, Charles Andrew. Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
Educational Broadcasting Corporation, “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories.html.
Kvalsvik, Raven Arungumar. Remembering Apartheid. Investigating Resistance in Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy. masters thesis, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, 2015.
Livermon, Xavier. “Soweto Nights: Making Black Queer Space in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Gender, Place & Culture 21, no. 4 (2014): 508–25.
MacCann, Donnarae, and Yulisa Amadu Maddy. Apartheid and Racism in South African Children’s Literature 1985–1995. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. New York: Macmillan, 1986.
Medalie, David. “Remembering Life under Apartheid with Fondness: The Memoirs of Jacob Dlamini and Chris van Wyk.” English in Africa 43, no. 3 (2016): 43–60.
Morgan, Eric J. “Black and White at Center Court: Arthur Ashe and the Confrontation of Apartheid in South Africa.” Diplomatic History 36, no. 5 (2012): 815–41.