Reading Treasure Island fuels Mathabane’s desire to master English even more. He is entranced by the adventurous tale, though he wonders why his school’s library does not have such books. Mathabane’s teachers tell him that, under Bantu Education law, black students are supposed to be prepared for tribal life, not made into “imitation whites.” The English that they learn in school is relegated to “servanthood English.” Even so, Mathabane reads and rereads every book that Granny brings home, and starts reading daily newspapers and doing the crosswords with his father’s brother, Uncle Pietrus, which develops his vocabulary.
The government’s desire to not create “imitation whites” suggests that both white and black education reinforce apartheid segregation, which further implies that the apartheid government uses every avenue at its disposal to keep black people trapped in subservience to whites. The intricately designed systems that uphold apartheid are all the more disturbing given how carefully thought out they appear to be.
Mathabane’s new passion for reading means he spends less time with his gang, which angers them. The gang leader, Jarvas, and several “henchmen” accost Mathabane one afternoon and demand that he fights alongside them next weekend or they’ll beat him up. Mathabane reluctantly agrees to fight, though he doesn’t want to. The following Saturday, Mathabane joins his gang as they face off against a rival gang, each boy armed with machete or knife or bottle or slingshot. As the fighting starts, a rock from a slingshot whistles past Mathabane’s head and gouges out a boy’s eye behind him. Seeing the boy’s crushed eye socket, Mathabane decides that it’s all futile and quits the gang for good. Jarvas warns him that he’ll pay, but his mother is proud of his decision.
Once again, though Mathabane is coerced into fighting by his friends and environment, his sudden and final decision to leave gang life behind suggests that he is not a naturally violent person, and it seems unlikely that he would be involved in any of it in a more stable environment. As Mathabane recognizes, gang violence is senseless, not in pursuit of any constructive goal—but the consequences can be life-long, such as permanently losing an eye.