Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Granny moves into a smaller shack and worries that she won’t be able to pay for Uncle Piet or his sister Aunt Bushy’s education much longer, since tuition rises while Granny’s wage stay the same. Mathabane spends as many evenings as possible with Granny and she treats him as her favorite grandchild. One day, Granny excitedly tells Mathabane and his mother that the Smiths gave her permission to bring Mathabane to work with her so they can meet him. Mathabane is terrified by the idea and does not want to meet a white family, hurting Granny’s feelings, but his mother declares its far too great an opportunity to “throw away.”
Mathabane’s terror at the thought of meeting a white family suggests that, although his personal prejudice is slowly being challenged, his traumatic experiences with white police and general anger toward the white population still dominate his perception of the world. Along with the many obstacles that apartheid lays before him, Mathabane’s own blind prejudice toward white people represents another challenge for him to overcome.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
The day before he meets the Smiths, Mathabane’s mother informs the principal why he’ll be gone and scrubs Mathabane furiously, even though he normally bathes himself. She claims that white people are “the cleanest people on earth” and won’t want a “filthy black boy contaminating their home.” The next day, Mathabane and Granny take an overcrowded bus into Johannesburg. The size of the buildings and mansions and the general wealth awes Mathabane. The bus stops for a group of white schoolchildren crossing the street, and Mathabane notes that black children have to run across the street, dodging traffic.
Mathabane’s mother’s comment about him being a “filthy black boy” who can “contaminate” others suggests that she internalizes white South Africa’s disdain for black people, viewing her own fellow sufferers—indeed, her own family—as “filthy” people. This self-contempt represents yet another way that apartheid oppresses black people, reinforcing low notions about their own human value so that they will accept their oppression.
Themes
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Mathabane and Granny get off at their stop and walk to a large house, where Granny calls out to Mrs. Smith from the gate. Mrs. Smith comes out to meet them—a small white woman dressed in white pants, shirt, and hat. Mathabane is nervous, but there is a warmth to Mrs. Smith’s voice that is instantly calming. She greets Mathabane and marvels at how smart he is when he introduces himself at length in English. Mrs. Smith remarks to her black servant that black children are so smart they’ll soon run the country. Mrs. Smith states that she is about to go play tennis. When Mathabane asks her what tennis is, she tells him she’ll find him an old racket to use.
Although the majority of white people support apartheid since it benefits them, Mrs. Smith’s kindness and respect demonstrates—both to Mathabane and the reader—that not all white people in South Africa support it. Mrs. Smith’s comment that black children will run the country suggests that she hopes for a different, liberated future for South Africa in which the black majority can participate in running their own government.
Themes
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
A school bus stops in front of the house and a chubby white boy gets off—Mrs. Smith’s son Clyde. Clyde doesn’t like that Mathabane is there and calls him a “Kaffir,” but Mrs. Smith scolds him. She remarks to Granny that she hates how white people treat black people in South Africa; the Bible says all should be equal, so white people are hypocrites.
Despite Mrs. Smith’s kindness, Clyde’s racism suggests that such behavior is more easily absorbed by children. Granny and Mrs. Smith’s conversation about the Bible suggests that, though the government uses Christianity to reinforce apartheid, they are abusing the religion rather than faithfully exercising its values.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Clyde shows Mathabane around the house, and Mathabane is struck by all the things that Clyde has that Mathabane himself does not: toys, clothes, and mountains of books. Clyde gives Mathabane an advanced textbook and tells him to read it. When Mathabane can’t, Clyde calls him “retarded” and says that his teachers claim that “Kaffirs can’t read, speak, or write English like white people because they have smaller brains.” Mrs. Smith walks into the room as Clyde is saying this and scolds him again, saying that not everything white people teach in school is true, especially their version of South African history. Clyde’s insult makes Mathabane determined to “master English.” At the end of the day, after Mathabane helps Granny garden, Mrs. Smith gives him some secondhand clothing and a copy of Treasure Island to keep.
Clyde’s cruelty contrasts sharply with Mrs. Smith’s kindness. His statement that his teachers taught him that black people are unintelligent suggests that much of his racism—since it clearly wasn’t passed down by his parents—is instilled in him through the white education system. Although the government teaching children to be racist is disturbing, it also conversely suggests that racism is not necessarily inherent to human beings, but is a learned attitude that must be taught and can therefore be overcome with further education.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon