After three years of “constant police terror,” every time Mathabane’s mother wakes him at night he assumes the police are raiding their neighborhood. However, one day she wakes him early on a winter morning without police and says they must travel but will not tell him where they are going. She dresses Mathabane’s siblings and they leave the shack without breakfast before sunrise. They go to Granny’s home, where they find the “indomitable matriarch” anxiously waiting. Peri-Urban police have just arrested her 13-year-old son, Mathabane’s Uncle Piet. Granny had sent him to the store before school to buy some bread, but the police picked him up for not having a passbook, since he is unusually tall and can pass as an adult.
Mathabane’s constant suspicion that the police are raiding their home suggests that his experiences with them have sufficiently traumatized him, conditioning his behavior and making him (justifiably) paranoid. The police’s arrest of 13-year-old Uncle Piet for not having a passbook, when he does not legally need one as a child, suggests that apartheid’s laws and executors have nothing to do with justice. Rather, the police only intend to harass black people in every way possible and inhibit their chances for personal success.
Mathabane’s mother and Granny resolve to get Uncle Piet out of jail, otherwise he may be sent to a potato farm where black men are “flogged, tortured, starved, and hung from trees.” Mathabane’s mother spends the day asking relatives for money. The next day they pawn some of Granny’s things to get the money. The court warns Uncle Piet that he needs a passbook now that he looks like an adult, even though he wears a school uniform. The principal of his school signs and stamps a note to verify that he’s only a child, but policemen arrest Uncle Piet several more times regardless.
The description of the potato farm’s treatment of black people sounds medieval, yet the story takes place in the mid-20th century, reiterating how gruesome and oppressive the apartheid system is. Uncle Piet’s continued arrests again suggests that apartheid’s laws having nothing to do with justice or safety, but simply provide the police with the legal premise to harass and intimidate black people.