A sign proclaims that it stands on “Bantu” land, and anyone traveling without a permit will be prosecuted. Mathabane reflects that because of such signs “and a conscience racked with guilt,” white people in South Africa largely don’t know what life is like for black people. He intends to tell them.
Mathabane’s opening suggests that his story will be defined by racial segregation, which increases personal prejudice between groups, since neither truly understand the experiences of others.
When Mathabane is growing up in the 1960s, Alexandra is a shantytown that occupies one square mile and houses over 100,000 black people, Coloured people (those with mixed black and white heritage), and Indians. Nearby, white people enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world. Most of the black families in Alexandra are tribal descendants, one or two generations removed from an entirely different way of life. Mathabane’s father belongs to the Venda tribe, and his mother is Tsonga. They met and married and moved into a tiny shack in Alexandra, where Mathabane was born. A few months later, policemen shot 69 unarmed black protesters dead in the street for protesting newly appointed “pass laws.”
White South Africans’ high standard of living immediately contrasts with the black community’s densely-packed shantytown, demonstrating the extreme disparity between the two groups. This, along with the mention of white police brutality, immediately establishes the tension between the two groups. Mathabane’s description of his parents’ tribal heritage suggests that their tribal identity, which contrasts with an urban city, will also play a significant role in his life’s story.