Coming of Age in
Apartheid South Africa
I. Main Characters
A. Johannes (Mark) Mathabane–Kaffir Boy revolves around Johannes for the simple reason that he is the author of this book. Growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa was especially hard for Johannes. Johannes is very smart and graduated at the top of his class during his 13 years of schooling in apartheid South Africa. Johannes has had a lot of courage and perseverance throughout his life.
B. Jackson Mathabane–Johannes’s father came from what is now the so-called independent homeland of the Vendas in the northwestern corner of the Transvaal. Johannes’s father tried desperately to support his family, but in times of dire need, he backed away and depended on alcohol and abusive behaviors. Johannes’s parents met and married in Alexandra on March 21, 1960.
C. Mother–Johannes’s mother came from Gazankulu, the tribal reserve for the Tsongas in the Northeastern Transvaal. She is a very loving and devoted woman.
D. Johannes’s siblings–Johannes has five sisters and one brother. His sisters names are Florah, Linah, Maria, Merriam, and Linah. George was his only brother.
E. Ellen Mabaso–Ellen was the mother of Johannes’s mother. She was a humble woman who bore four children: Uncle Piet, Aunt Bush, Uncle Cheeks, and Johannes’s mother. she had a statuesque figure–tall, limber, and ebony colored complete with tribal attire and multiple anklets, beads, earrings and bracelets. She could easily been a chief’s daughter. Her friendly, brown eyes had the radiance of pristine pearls. She was the most beautiful woman Johannes had ever seen. She worked six days a week, from seven to five, mowing lawns, raking leaves, clipping hedges, watering plants, sweeping driveways, cleaning yards and pruning trees for white people.
F. Mr. Brown–Mr. Brown was one of the few people in the yard where the Mathabane’s lived with the equivalent of a high-school education. He was a bus driver for PUTCO, but he also operated a moving service that transported people and goods between Alexandra and the tribal reserve of the Vendas.
G. Mrs. Smith–Mrs. Smith was Granny’s employer. She was a short, slender woman with silver hair and slightly drooping shoulders. Granny was the Smith’s gardener.
H. Clyde Smith–Clyde is the son of the woman who Granny works for. He is a young boy who is somewhat of a snob. As he grows, he learns to like Johannes and they become friends.
I. Scaramouche–Scaramouche was a self-employed painter. He was also one of the best tennis players among people of color in Johannesburg. An excellent coach, he was well connected in white and black tennis circles. He agreed to be Johannes’ coach. Scaramouche turned out to not only be a great coach but a confidant and a surrogate father. He was firm and demanding but not authoritative and stifling. Instead of teaching Johannes his style of play, he let Johannes acquire his own way.
J. Tom–In June of 1972, Johannes met Tom. He is a lanky Zulu tennis player. He was very harmless-looking
K. Wilfred Horn–Wilfred married to Norma. He respects black people and owns a tennis ranch in Halfway House called Barretts.He was a German immigrant.
L. Arthur Ashe–Arthur Ashe was a Negro tennis player that Johannes admired very much. he condemned apartheid and did not pretend he was a white man erroneously painted black. Arthur always appeared calm, cool, and collected, even when he was surrounded in a sea of white faces.
M. David–David was the number two singles player on the tennis team. He was soft-spoken, politically sensitive, and a brilliant Zulu student whose love for the English language exhaled Johannes’s. Johannes and David frequently exchanged books, did English homework together, read prose and poetry together, trained together, and sat on the same seat during tennis trips. David was the first close friend Johannes ever had. The only difference between David and Johannes was that David was a womanizer.
N. Helmut–Helmut was a short, brown-haired bespectacled white man with a barrel chest. He was always dressed in flashy clothing. He came from a small town in Germany and was working for a German company in South Africa only a few months before he met Johannes. He turned out to be a horrible tennis player, but good practice for Johannes.
O. Andre Zietsman–Andre was a blond-haired, well built, graceful man who proved to be a dear friend to Johannes. He was one of South Africa’s rising tennis stars. At twenty-four he had already won dozens of prestigious tournaments and had participated in Wimbeldon and the U.S. Open. He had offered to teach Johannes the finer points of tennis.
II. Strategies Used to Control and Condition People
A. Instill Fear
1. Physical abuse
a. pg. 128: “…I spotted a row of canes of different lengths and thicknesses hanging behind it. The principal, seeing me staring at the canes, grinned and said, in a manner of suggesting that he had wanted me to see them, ‘As long as you behave, I won’t have to use any of those on you.’
…I stared at my mother–she smiled; at Granny–she smiled too. That made me abandon any inkling of escaping.”
2. Psychological abuse
a. pg. 98: “…’what poison?’ I asked incredulously.
‘You fool, you’ll die without knowing it.’
‘Who’ll kill me?’
I listened with horror and utter disbelief as my mother told her voodoo story. She said everything with such forthrightness and conviction, with such calculated clowness, her face a mask of grimness, that everything she said sank in, and I believed her wholly, accepted all she said as undisputed fact.”
b. pg. 126: “‘I wish I had done the same to my oldest son,’…’before the street claimed him…and… turned him into a tsotsi.’
…’But it’s too late now,’…’he’s beyond any help. I can’t help him even if I wanted to. He is dead.’
‘How did he die?’ my mother asked in a sympathetic voice.
‘He shunned school and, instead, grew up to live by the knife. And the same knife he lived by ended his life. That’s why whenever I see a boy-child refuse to go to school, I stop and tell the story of my dear little heartbreak.'”
c. pg. 175: “A sarcastic smile playing on her face, my mother replied, ‘Maybe if you’d been saving all these years you’ve been working, instead of squandering money on liquor and dice, you’d have long become your own boss. Who knows, you might even be a millionaire. You have brains, Jackson, I will tell you that. But you choose not to use them. Whatever happened to that ambitious, hardworking, thrifty family man who swept me off my feet thirteen years ago? The man who once vowed to make it despite what white people told him?
My mother’s remarks wounded my father’s pride. He leaped off his chair as though it were a brazier full or red-hot coals. ‘Don’t lecture, you hear, woman, don’t lecture me!’ he fumed. ‘I’m the man of this house. I wear the pants, not you! Watch your tongue or I’ll cut it out, you hear! I’ll cut it out!…this bloody business of telling me, your husband and lord, how to run this house has to stop! Right at this moment, or you’ll know why I’m called Mathabane!…You seem to forget that I bought you! I own you. Your duty is to look after my children, cook for me and do what I say.
d. pg. 219: “‘I told you never t set foot in my house again, preacher,…I don’t want to hear any more about your white God. Why, then, do you keep on coming? Do you think because you call yourself ‘man of God’ I won’t kick your ass?…You’re stark raving mad, preacher,…You mean to tell me that white people aren’t aware of what they’re doing to us? You mean to tell me that they aren’t aware that my family is starving because of their laws? Do you mean to tell me that God will forgive them all that? And God who’ll forgive white people’s sins is as mad as you are preacher.'”
B. Man against Man
1. pg. 153: “I considered the black policemen’s crimes against their own people so heinous that, once I became a fighter, ‘beating them to death’ wouldn’t be enough punishment–I would squash them like vermin under the wheels of a bulldozer I would have bought with my boxing revenues.”
2. pg. 166: “One thing I do know was that I could not understand the morbid cruelty and satanic impulses that drove people to kill others. for what? I asked myself. What is to be gained from killing a fellow sufferer? Why, instead of reaching out and helping each other, were some black people bent on hurting one another? Why, in the place of love and compassion, were there implacable hate and anger and jealousy? I could not see myself living the rest of my life under such conditions–to me life meant love, understanding, compassion….”
3. pg. 297: “Daily I heard stories of friends and kindred betraying one another.”
C. Inferior Education
1. pg. 129: “‘Is your husband a Shangaan, Mrs. Mathabane?’
‘No he’s not Principal,’…’Is there anything wrong? He’s Venda and I’m Shangaan.’
…’No, there’s nothing seriously wrong. Nothing that we can’t take care of. You see, Mrs. Mathabane, technically, the fact that your child’s father is a Venda makes him ineligible to attend this tribal school because it is only for children whose parents are of he Shangaan tribe. May I ask what language the children speak at home?’
‘Both languages,’…’Venda and Shangaan. Is there anything wrong?’
‘…which language do they speak more?’
‘…In that case, I thing an exception can be made. The reason for such an exception is that there’s currently no school for Vendas in Alexandra. And should the authorities come asking why we took in your son, we can tell them that. Anyway, your child is half and half.”
2. pg. 133-134: “‘He refused to go to school because his father led him to believe that an education was a tool through which white people were going to take things away from him, like they did black people in the old days. And that a white man’s education was worthless insofar as black people were concerned because it prepared them for jobs they can’t have. But I know it isn’t totally so, child, because times have changed somewhat….Take my situation: I can’t find a job because I don’t have papers, and I can’t get papers because white people mainly want to resister people who can read and write….I’ve always wanted to go to school, but couldn’t because my father, under the sway of tribal traditions, thought it unnecessary to educate females. That’s why I so much want you to go, child, for if you do, I know that someday I too would come to go, old as I would be then. Promise me, therefore, that no matter what, you’ll go back to school. And I in turn, promise that I’ll d!
o everything in my power to keep you there.’