Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The day that Mathabane and his father arrive back home, Mathabane’s mother gives birth to yet another daughter and names her Merriam. Money becomes even tighter. Six months later, the government announces that it will demolish Alexandra because it is a “black spot” on the city. Families with permits may relocate to Soweto or Tembisa—all others will be deported to the tribal reserves. Every night, Mathabane’s family expects bulldozers arrive to destroy their house, and his parents don’t know what to do. However, after a few weeks the government announces it will only raze part of Alexandra for now, and the Mathabanes are able to find a new shack in a section of town safe from demolition.
Along with poverty and bureaucracy, Alexandra’s inhabitants must worry about losing their homes as well. The government’s failure to follow through on its project suggests that it didn’t particularly care about demolishing Alexandra in the first place. Once again, this demonstrates the many ways that apartheid structurally oppresses black people, burdening them with unnecessary fears and concerns so that they do not advance in life but remain powerless and repressed.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
In their new shack and new neighborhood, Mathabane finds a piece of a magazine with pictures of big beautiful houses inside. He tells his mother that he will build her a house like that, but she tells him that even if he is rich, black people are not allowed to own land. Mathabane protests that that is unfair, but his mother tells him it’s just the way the laws work, since white people run the country. Mathabane reflects that in this moment he understands that white people are “the authors of apartheid,” and he understands the world “wholly in racial terms.” All black people think this way. The world is split into two worlds, utterly separate, though codependent as “master and slave.”
Since Mathabane’s whole life is defined by their suffering under apartheid, it follows that he views the world in explicitly racial terms, with white people as “the authors” of all its suffering and evil. This demonstrates how apartheid’s injustice increases personal prejudice—not only white people’s prejudice of black people, but also black people’s prejudice of white people. Although it’s true that apartheid unfairly oppresses black people, in Mathabane’s mind, every single white person embodies apartheid’s evil, which does not fit reality.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mathabane gets to know his new neighborhood, which is stinking, filthy, and overrun with rats. Even so, he and the other children play in the yards, digging for “hidden treasure” in piles of refuse. They crush glass bottles into “diamonds” and sail bottle-top boats in the rivers of urine that surround the lavatory. His family’s shack’s ceiling starts to crumble and its doorways rot and let cold air through. Animals crawl through holes in the wall. Mathabane accepts these conditions without complaint, though, because it’s the only way of life he knows.
Mathabane’s acceptance of his abject poverty suggests that many people do not fight for a different reality because they don’t realize that one exists. This further suggests that apartheid keeps people like Mathabane in a subservient, repressed position by keeping them ignorant of the outside world, where such racism and oppression are unacceptable practices.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Related Quotes