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Kaffir Boy

Mark Mathabane, in his autobiography Kaffir Boy, tells the story, first, of one man's suffering at the mercy of South Africa's system of apartheid, and, second, of that man's ultimate individual victory over that racist system. Mathabane wrote the book at a time---the mid-1980s---when it appeared that apartheid was weakening its hold on South Africa, and it is clear that the author is hopeful about racial liberty in his country, and that he is not writing to vent his rage against whites in general who implemented apartheid. In fact, he dedicates the book in part "to those handful of white South Africans who helped me to grow as a human being and a tennis player, and with whom I share the hope of someday seeing a South Africa free of apartheid" (v).

Of course, his primary purpose is to present candidly and comprehensively his own experiences and those of other black South Africans who suffered as a result of apartheid. He wants to "explain what it felt like to grow up under South Africa's system of legalized racism . . . and how I escaped from it and ended up in America" (ix). He recognizes that his is an unusual story, but he wants to tell it in order to give hope to those who seek to flee and/or change the system of apartheid. He was not content to merely escape himself, but instead seeks through his book to influence the process of change. It is not unreasonable to say that his book played some role, however small or indirect, in bringing about the end of apartheid in South Africa. And he emphasizes that "apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be abolished" (ix).

Mathabane makes clear that his life was not one which showed any hope of escaping the "prison house of apartheid" (v). He was born and raised in the midst of the worst that the system had to offer:

. . . I was born of illiterate parents who could not afford to pay my way through school, let alone pay the rent for our shack and put enough food on the table;<...

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Kaffir Boy. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:25, May 24, 2020, from