Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mathabane’s father returns after a few months, but Mathabane realizes that a police raid can “shatter[]” the fragile “normalcy” for their family at any moment. He sees his own future as a black man played out in his father’s constant arrests, and the realization leaves him feeling hopeless, questioning whether “black life” is worth living at all.
The constant possibility of his father being arrested demonstrates the way that apartheid keeps black families vulnerable, at risk of losing half or all of their income at any point, and making simple survival such a burden that there is little hope of rising out of poverty.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
More migrants enter their neighborhood ghetto and bring more tribal beliefs with them. Mathabane grows more aware of witches and voodoo all around them: shooting stars are flying witches, creaking roofs mean witches are riding baboons across them, and every misfortune is a sign of bad voodoo. Mathabane’s father tells him that he has no “free will” or agency in his life, but that every event is controlled and ordained by his ancestors.
Mathabane’s internalized belief that he has no agency contributes to apartheid’s goal of keeping him repressed and powerless to change his position in life. Interestingly, Mathabane will later criticize Christianity for a parallel belief, making its adherents passive and helpless, rather than active shapers of their own destinies.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
However, by the time Mathabane is seven, he begins to have quiet doubts about his parents’ view of the world. He realizes he will need to ask questions and discern reality for himself, though vocally opposing his father’s tribal beliefs is out of the question.
Mathabane’s skepticism about his father’s beliefs marks an important moment in his personal development—he chooses to understand the world as he actually sees it, rather than simply accepting what he is told.
Themes
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon