Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Kaffir Boy can help.

Kaffir Boy: Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Granny takes a gardening job working for an English-speaking white family, the Smiths. Before long, Granny starts bringing comic books home for Mathabane that the Smiths give her. The Smiths have a boy about Mathabane’s age and Granny told them about her clever grandson, so they pass on old books and toys as well. This confuses Mathabane, since white people usually never give things to black people, but he pores over the comics, books, and games. He learns stories and rhymes that his teachers don’t even know and renews his love for school and learning.
Mathabane’s confusion as to why white people would give things to a black child suggests that he does not view them as human beings in the way he sees himself or his mother, but only as soulless, racist antagonists. Mathabane’s experience with Mrs. Smith thus not only reveals his own blind prejudice to him, but also suggests that not all white people are racist believers in apartheid.
Themes
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
When one of Mathabane’s teachers asks what sort of work his Granny does, he is ashamed to admit that she is a gardener, since it seems lowly. However, the teacher tells him that his grandmother was a gardener too. Mathabane never again feels ashamed of his family or their poverty.
Mathabane’s shame that Granny is a gardener suggests that, even in a community with widespread poverty, he feels social stigma over his family’s struggle to get by.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
One night, Mathabane’s father suggests to his mother that they use their savings to brew beer and join a “stockvel,” an arrangement between several families to run an unlicensed bar out of their homes. His mother only wants to use their money for schooling, and a fight erupts between them. Mathabane’s mother is angry at her husband for drinking and gambling their money away, while father is angry at his wife for not being docile enough.
Mathabane’s parents’ fight shows that his mother is becoming bolder, more willing to challenge his father’s behavior and opinions. This implies that Mathabane’s mother is rejecting her husband’s tribal values to a steadily-growing degree.
Themes
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
After the fight dies down, Mathabane’s father offers to quit gambling and buying alcohol if Mathabane’s mother will agree to start selling beer. Privately, Mathabane hopes they try it, since stockvel families have far more money than they do. Mathabane’s mother continues to refuse until his father says that some of the profits can help pay for education as well, and offers her his whole week’s paycheck as a down payment. Mathabane begs his mother to agree, and she finally relents.
Mathabane’s parents’ business venture disproves the apartheid notion that black people are lazy or unintelligent. Their business (though illegal) demonstrates that in spite of their lack of education, many people undertake creative endeavors to establish some level of stable income.
Themes
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Get the entire Kaffir Boy LitChart as a printable PDF.
Kaffir Boy PDF
Although the liquor business does not solve all their family’s problems, it does turn a profit. Mathabane’s father brings his whole paycheck home each week, and rather than staying out to drink, his friends drink at their home with him instead. Mathabane’s parents pay him to keep the books, and when word gets out that he can write, he starts offering a letter-writing service to his father’s customers as well. The letters are usually to and from migrant workers from the tribal reserves, containing news about their families. More often than not, the news is tragic. Because of Influx Control Laws, the migrant workers are not allowed to live with their families in “white South Africa,” and remain separated from them for years at a time.
Mathabane’s ability to keep the books for his parents’ business already demonstrates a modern education’s benefit to not only the student, but their family and community as well. In the thematic conflict between his father’s tribal identity and his own desire for a modern education, Mathabane’s newfound usefulness to the family business suggests that the education is more valuable. Meanwhile, Influx Control Laws demonstrate another way that apartheid structurally oppresses black people by breaking up families.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon