Rumor spreads through the ghetto that another raid is coming that same day. Two subsequent raids mark the beginning of the annual “Operation Clean-Up Month,” during which police sift through Alexandra to arrest people for having their passbooks out of order. Just after midnight, the police arrive again, banging on the locked door of Mathabane’s shack. Mathabane waits awhile, but then opens it for them. Since he didn’t open the door last time, the police beat him up.
Mathabane’s violent past experiences with police suggest that for black people under apartheid, the police have no association with protection or rule of law—rather, they exercise authority with fear, prejudice, and danger. The fact that they would beat an innocent child suggests that they are ruthless and corrupt.
Two police burst through the door, and one of them kicks Mathabane against the wall. He kicks Mathabane again while he is on the floor, knocking his head into a crate and against a blunted axe blade on the floor. Blood streams from Mathabane’s face and several of his teeth are loose. He begs for mercy, and Florah screams hysterically when one of the policemen threatens her. They find Mathabane’s father, naked since he was sleeping, hiding under the bed and drag him out. The flip through his passbook, demanding to know why certain taxes aren’t paid. Mathabane’s fathers stands helpless, sheepish, while one of the police pokes at his penis with a truncheon. Mathabane “gasp[s] with horror.”
The policeman’s senseless violence against a young child not only depicts the police as an oppressive force, but also indicates that they don’t see a small black child like Mathabane as having any human value that’s worthy of respect or protection. The policeman’s humiliation and sexual harassment of Mathabane’s father suggests that they take perverse enjoyment in exerting their power over others, again depicting them as cruel and corrupt.
Mathabane finds it strange to see his father so powerless and defeated, since normally he is strong-willed and powerful. The sight makes Mathabane burn with hatred, which imprints in his five-year-old brain. When his father can’t pay the policemen their bribe, they arrest him, handcuffing him and dragging him outside. Mathabane wonders what his father could have done wrong to deserve such wretched treatment. He fears the police as if they are “monsters,” but realizes that he hates them more powerfully than he fears them. Mathabane follows his father outside and sees him climb onto a prison bus with many other black men and women. As the bus drives away, the children remain in the yard, speaking to each other about which parents they lost.
Although Mathabane’s hatred of the police certainly seems justified, such hatred within a five-year-old child again suggest that the trauma of life under apartheid forces him to grow up far too fast and grapple with real-world concepts he should not be exposed to yet. Both his hatred and perception of the police as monsters suggests that, within his own suffering, his prejudice and anger are beginning to formulate, demonstrating how such feelings can be developed over a person’s entire life.
Mathabane remembers that the police didn’t find his mother, and realizes she must be hiding in the house somewhere. He rushes inside and hears her voice from inside their wardrobe. His mother tells him to let her out, but the wardrobe is locked, and they worry that Mathabane’s father accidentally took the key. Mathabane wants to break down the door with the axe, but his mother screams at him not to do it. Eventually, frantically, Mathabane finds the key hidden between two bricks. His mother emerges and begins putting their ransacked house back together.
Mathabane’s desire to axe his way through a cabinet his mother is hiding in is an obviously dangerous idea, which underscores the fact that he is only a five-year-old boy, still developing his critical thinking and good judgment. This reinforces the horror and injustice of Mathabane’s childhood, reminding the reader that he is still early in his childhood development, yet forced to endure such suffering.