Cats, Noah notes in his preface, are uncommon everywhere he has ever been in Africa. (In South Africa, “only witches have cats, and all cats are witches.”) During a recent soccer match, a security guard beat a cat to death on live television like “any sensible black person” (because it was a witch). It created a media outcry among white animal lovers, and the man “had to pay some enormous fine.” Of course, Noah notes, “white people had spent years seeing video of black people being beaten to death by other white people,” and yet now they are furious at the violence. Anyway, “in South Africa, black people have dogs.”
Noah shows how the division between blacks and whites in South Africa is partially about a difference in cultural logics: for blacks, it is only “sensible” to kill a cat; for whites, this is animal cruelty, but it is perfectly fine to kill blacks. In fact, whites see animals as more deserving of rights than black people, which shows that racism in part functions through a breakdown in empathy and social recognition toward “other” groups.
Patricia brings home two black cats a month after she and Trevor move to Eden Park. They are both excited and do not worry about “any nonsense about cats.” In their new colored neighborhood, they figure people will not care. One night, they return home to find the cats beheaded, tied to the family’s front gate, with a sign in Afrikaans: “Witch.” Trevor doesn’t much care—the cats were not particularly nice, anyway.
The reaction of Eden Park’s colored population is curious—traditionally, as Noah later explains, colored people largely take from white Afrikaner culture, but their beliefs are more complex, influenced enough by the native belief in witches to logically see the cats as a threat. In this sense, Trevor and Patricia seem to have more in common with this colored community than they realize, even though it barely acknowledges them.
After some time, they get dogs instead, like “almost every black family” in South Africa, who keep dogs not as “members of the family” but more as “a poor-man’s alarm system.” Patricia and Trevor’s dogs are two sisters, Maltese-bull terrier mixes, named Fufi and Panther. They have a love-hate relationship: they get along but also have bloody fights. Panther is Patricia’s, and Fufi is Trevor’s; Panther is ugly, and Fufi is beautiful; Panther is smart, and Fufi is “dumb as shit.” Fufi never responds to any commands—after a burglar kills her some years later, the vet informs Trevor and Patricia that Fufi was deaf the whole time.
Panther and Fufi’s love-hate relationship obviously parallels Patricia and Trevor’s, and it is clear that for them the dogs are closer to “members of the family” than an “alarm system” (a purpose for which Fufi would be terribly suited). When Trevor and Patricia learn that Fufi was deaf, it explains her apparent stupidity but also shows them how little they truly understood about a being they loved.
Fufi and Trevor are inseparable; she does tricks and even manages to jump the yard’s five-foot wall, which she does every morning after Trevor and Patricia leave the house. Home during school vacation one day, Trevor realizes this and follows Fufi across town on his bicycle. She jumps into another yard, where another kid insists she is his dog, “Spotty.” The family locks Fufi in their house that night, so she cannot return, and when Patricia and Trevor show up with Fufi’s veterinary documents and puppyhood photos, they manage to buy her back. Regardless, Trevor cries all the way home, heartbroken that “Fufi loves another boy.” He learns a “valuable lesson”: that “you do not own the thing that you love.”
While Trevor Noah clearly finds this story hilarious in retrospect, it also shows how even failures in love can teach people valuable lessons for the future. His belief that “you do not own the thing that you love” becomes incredibly important later on, when he tries to distinguish the kind of love he feels for his mother from the possessive kind of love Abel feels for her; love, he implies, must be mutually beneficial and not for one person’s personal gain at the other’s expense.