Mathabane slowly grows fonder of school, even though he often receives beatings for being unkempt, making noise, or not having his school fees. However, the young teacher quits after a “severe nervous breakdown” and a kind older woman takes her place. Mathabane makes many new friends, many from wealthier families. He can buy lunch each day at school for four pennies. Most importantly, the new words and numbers and songs make Mathabane constantly want to learn more, especially as he begins to learn English and not just Tsonga.
Mathabane’s world is framed by violence, even from people who presumably want to help him succeed, such as his teachers. Mathabane’s introduction to English marks another critical milestone in his personal development, as it begins to open the white world up to him, which will ultimately provide him with opportunities to succeed and address his own personal prejudices.
At the end of the term in December, the principal holds a school-wide assembly to recognize academic achievements. To Mathabane’s complete surprise, the principal announces that he is the top-ranked student in his grade. All of the teachers and many of Mathabane’s peers congratulate him on his excellent work. The principal dismisses the assembly and Mathabane realizes that he’s sad he’ll be away from school and friends for the two holiday months.
Mathabane’s sadness at being away from school and friends suggests that his attitude toward school has reversed: where he once hated it, he now enjoys both the learning and camaraderie. Additionally, his academic achievement suggests that, in the world of education and progress, he can excel and achieve more than he would in his father’s tribal world.
Mathabane’s achievement makes his father proud. His father asks him how much the books and slates he need for school costs. When Mathabane tells him, his father is irritated that it is so much and briefly quarrels with Mathabane’s mother. However, Mathabane’s father gives him the full sum, shocking Mathabane. He wants to kiss his father. His father tells him he won’t pay for everything, and after Mathabane can read and write, he must quit school.
Mathabane’s father’s pride represents a rare moment of affection between father and son. Although Mathabane’s father will continue to oppose his modern education, this moment suggests that some part of his father also recognizes its value, especially if Mathabane distinguishes himself as a scholar.
When Florah turns six, her mother enrolls her in school as well, doubling the fees their family must pay. Mathabane’s teachers constantly beat him for not having his fees, books, or uniform even though he can’t afford them. They often shame him in front of his peers for not finding the money. Mathabane finds himself “hating all the teachers,” and begins to doubt how useful school is for him.
Although Mathabane’s teachers use violence to reinforce good behavior, his disenchantment with school after being repeatedly beaten for events beyond his control suggests that such beatings can have a negative impact as well.
When Mathabane tells his mother he wants to quit school, she begs him to stay and promises that when she finds a job, she’ll use her first wages to buy books and uniforms. His mother does find a job, but his father uses this as an excuse to stop paying for the family’s groceries. Mathabane’s mother has to delay buying him books since she has to buy groceries now as well. However, she buys a box of books in a flea market, hoping that they’ll work for school. But when Mathabane looks at them, he sees that they’re all in the wrong languages. However, a friendly neighbor with some education offers to buy the correct school books and trade Mathabane’s mother for the ones she found.
Mathabane’s father’s decision to no longer pay for groceries depicts him as a selfish individual, since the reader knows he spends his money on drinking and gambling. Mathabane’s father is thus a destructive force within their family, adding another obstacle that Mathabane must overcome in order to rise from poverty and succeed in the modern world. Mathabane’s father’s selfishness implies that his tribal values do not necessarily lead to stronger character.