Leaving the gang gives Mathabane more time to read and study, and he continues to excel in school. His teachers think he will go far in life, though he knows he’ll be limited by money. Many of his classmates, though talented, are dropping out because they can’t afford tuition.
Mathabane’s classmates dropping out for financial reasons suggests that, even though many black children like him are intelligent and capable, their lack of resources prevents them from achieving at the same level as white students.
Mathabane grows more comfortable around white people after helping Granny at the Smiths’ house several times. One day, after a long day of cleaning and gardening, Granny and Mathabane wait at the black bus stop for the bus back to Alexandra. Granny walks away to buy something from a store quickly, but while she is gone a bus stops some distance down the sidewalk. Mathabane thinks they will miss their bus, so he runs and boards it, realizing too late that it is a white bus.
Mathabane’s growing sense of ease in the white world suggests that exposure can help an individual to alleviate his or her fears of people different than themselves. This suggests that at least some of the white people’s prejudice is motivated by ignorance, by fear of the unknown, and can thus potentially be overcome through experience and relationships.
The driver is furious and chases Mathabane back down the steps. Mathabane expects to be attacked but Granny appears behind him and grovels to the white driver, insisting that Mathabane is mentally disabled. As the bus pulls away, Granny furiously berates Mathabane for such a mistake, calling him a “black imp.” When she calms down, she apologizes but explains that crossing segregation lines is a serious crime. From that day on, Mathabane realizes that the marks of segregation are everywhere, denoted usually by written signs which illiterate people like Granny can’t even read.
While Granny’s groveling appeases the white driver’s anger and prevents further punishment, the act suggests that black people in South Africa must debase and humiliate themselves in order to survive. Granny’s fury at Mathabane for accidentally crossing segregation lines suggests that even in her mind, doing so is an unpardonable sin. Sadly, Granny’s reference to Mathabane as a “black imp” recalls the racist paintings of the black devil, suggesting that Granny internalizes South Africa’s racist prejudice and turns it against herself and her grandson.
Mathabane starts working as a paperboy in the mornings for extra income and so that he can read all the newspapers. With his extra income, he is able to attend the annual school trips into the city. On one trip, he and his classmates take a bus to the Johannesburg Zoo, which black people can only visit with special permits. The entrances to the zoo are segregated even though everyone mixes once they are inside. When Mathabane and his friends go to see the spider monkeys, a group of Afrikaner students mock and jeer at them in Afrikaans. Mathabane’s friends respond in Afrikaans and then mock the white boys in Tsonga. The Afrikaners know they are being harassed, but are so confounded by the language that they don’t know how to respond and leave.
Mathabane and his friends’ small victory over the Afrikaners suggests that language is powerful, especially when one group has the power of a language that another group does not know. This demonstrates the value of modern education. However, for those black people without an education and who cannot speak English or Afrikaans, this suggests yet another disadvantage that they face, as the government officials and police can wield their foreign language over them.