Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mathabane’s father is laid off once again. He wants to go to the tribal reserves to visit a witch doctor and get a “talisman to guarantee him perpetual employment,” so he rations the family’s food for two months until he can afford the trip. He decides to take Mathabane with him. The prospect excites Mathabane, since he’s never left Alexandra before, They hire a truck driver to hide them under a pile of furniture for 24 hours and smuggle them into Venda tribal land.
Mathabane’s father’s rationing so he can claim a tribal remedy suggests that his tribal beliefs disrupt his family’s wellbeing. Although he may believe that a talisman will fix his problems in the long term, he pushes his family nearer to the brink of starvation for a full two months to achieve this.
Themes
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
When they arrive, Mathabane sees that the tribal land is dry and infertile, and the people there seem even poorer than in Alexandra. He thinks, “Most were a pathetic lot.” However, they crowd around Mathabane to hear any information he has about the cities, which makes him feel “superior to the lot of them.” Mathabane’s father tells him that someday the white people will force all black people to come back and live on this land, but it will be a better place for Mathabane to become a proper Venda boy than the city is. Mathabane suspects that his father means to leave him here and return to Alexandra alone.
Despite Mathabane’s resolution never to “jeer” at anyone ever again, his self-superiority toward the tribal people implies that he still internalizes apartheid’s hierarchy. This suggests that such an oppressive system affects not only one’s physical well-being but even their psyche, encouraging them to imitate its prejudice toward other people. The general poverty in tribal lands suggests that his father’s loyalty to tribal values can lead only to ruin.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
At the end of the week, Mathabane and his father go to meet the witch doctor in his cave at the base of a mountain. Mathabane thinks it all looks like something out of a “Tarzan movie.” His father tells the witch doctor all of his problems and needs (health, stable employment, winning at dice, and so on). The witch doctor reads a small set of bones and decides that the ancestors are mad at Mathabane’s father, so he must sacrifice a chicken to them twice a year and drink blood from a goat’s neck as an “ablution ceremony.” When they leave, Mathabane’s father “seem[s] a new man,” though Mathabane finds it strange that his father should so easily submit to the witch doctors instructions and ceremonies.
Mathabane’s father’s wishes for the witch doctor mix his family’s wellbeing and his own personal desires (winning at dice), suggesting that the trip is at least partially selfish, rising from his father’s desire to win rather than to support the wellbeing of his family. In light of this, denying his family food for two months and spending so much money on the trip depicts Mathabane’s father as a primarily selfish person, putting his own pride and desires above the basic needs of his growing family.
Themes
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
The day before Mathabane and his father return to Alexandra, his father suggests he should leave his son in Venda, to let him grow up proper. Mathabane firmly tells him he’ll run away; he’d rather die than live here. His father doesn’t bring it up again. Before they leave, Mathabane asks a young boy why there are no adult men in the village, and he tells Mathabane that every father is away, working in the mines. The boy hasn’t seen his own father in seven years.
Mathabane’s father’s wish to leave his son behind is perhaps less motivated by the desire for Mathabane to grow up a particular way than by his desire to be rid of one child, and thus have a little bit less financial pressure. This further characterizes Mathabane’s father as a selfish person.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
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