Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few weeks later, Mathabane’s mother takes him to the superintendent’s office to apply for papers, though she won’t tell him what the papers are for. They arrive at his office at five in the morning, but a long line has already gathered.
Mathabane’s mother’s arrival at the office at such an early hour confirms that she is dedicated to getting the right papers for her son, which emphasizes the injustice when she is turned away.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Mathabane’s feet are frozen, so his mother lets him sit with a group of men around a trash fire. The older men talk about their struggles to find permits, to avoid police, to fight injustice in the Bantu courts. A truck convoy passes by filled with grim black men wrapped in heavy blankets. Mathabane asks who those men are, but one of the men around the fire says they’re not men, they’re “leeches” coming from the tribal lands to work in the white man’s gold mines. Another bitterly adds that if those men “hadn’t been licking the white man’s ass” then black people might already have equal rights in South Africa. Mathabane recognizes the same “anger and hatred” in these men that he sees in his father, and wonders what creates it.
Like the “shit-men,” the migrant workers are hated by most other black people, suggesting that an apartheid-like hierarchy exists even within the black South Africans’ own oppressed community. That community’s anger and hatred toward white people is so strong that they aim it at any black person who even associates with white people. Mathabane’s recognition of the same hatred that burns inside his father indicates that after decades of ruthless oppression, anger festers into hatred within nearly all black people in South Africa.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Mathabane and his mother wait seven hours in line, and then several more as various offices send them this way or that to fetch different paperwork. They finally get a meeting with the superintendent, but the official’s black clerk announces he decided to go home early, though it’s only the middle of the afternoon. The clerk tells Mathabane’s mother to try again in a month. She starts to complain, but he cuts her off and says the superintendent can do whatever he wants.
Despite being at the office at five in the morning, the superintendent’s office traps Mathabane’s mother in a mire of bureaucracy, again demonstrating how apartheid’s overly-complex laws prevent black people from even legally following the law and taking steps to better themselves.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
They try again in a month, on a Friday. Mathabane sees people singing with happiness because it is payday. He asks his mother why his father never sings. His father has grown even more sullen—although Mathabane and his siblings want to love him, whenever his sisters try to hug or kiss him he shoves them roughly away. Mathabane’s mother insists that his father simply has many worries because of his work.
Mathabane’s father’s sullenness arises from his oppression under apartheid, which in turn gives way to his failure to be a parent. This string of effects suggests that apartheid oppresses black people not only economically, but emotionally and socially as well, burdening them so much that it is difficult to be a proper parent, spouse, or friend.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
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Mathabane and his mother finally meet with the white superintendent, but Mathabane cowers with fear as soon as he sees him—the white man was one of the policemen directing the night raids years ago. When Mathabane mentions this to his mother, she warns him to keep quiet. The official grills Mathabane’s mother on where he was born and whether or not he is “a bastard” or her rightful child. The superintendent claims that he can’t give issue paperwork because they have no birth certificate on record. Mathabane’s mother explains that the clinic won’t give them a certificate because Mathabane was born at home, but the official refuses to help unless she can show a birth certificate. He gives her  a note to show to the clinic, assuring her that they’ll provide the birth certificate now—but Mathabane’s mother cannot read.
Mathabane’s terror at seeing the white man not only demonstrates his general fear of white people, which is considerable, but his enduring trauma from years of night raids. Meanwhile, the superintendent’s aggressive and rude questions toward Mathabane’s mother demonstrates his own racial prejudice against black people, whom he seems intent on disrespecting. The convoluted process and demands that the superintendent makes again demonstrate how apartheid structurally oppresses black people by trapping them with layers of complex laws and bureaucracy.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
The following Monday, Mathabane and his mother take the note to the clinic and again wait in line for hours. Mathabane stares with horror at all manner of grisly illnesses and wounds, with nowhere near enough doctors or nurses to provide treatment. When his mother gives the superintendent’s note to a black clerk, the clerk explains that the note only says that she has a problem but does not specify what—it is not useful in any way. A guard forces his mother out of line. However, Mathabane’s mother catches hold of a white nun as she is passing by. The nun listens to her story, growing more enraged with each detail, and accosts the clerk until he writes up a birth certificate. Mathabane’s mother tells him this is proof that “not all white people are bad.”
The superintendent’s useless note suggests that he actively does not want Mathabane’s mother to get the proper papers for Mathabane; he seems to take some perverse pleasure in seeing black people fail, demonstrating a malicious racial prejudice. However, the white nun, the first kind white person in the story, shows legitimate compassion. She not only demonstrates that not all white people bear personal prejudice, but also that not all Christians are exploitative or white supremacists either.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon