One evening, Mathabane’s father bursts into the house with two large Venda men to kidnap Mathabane and take him to “the mountain school” in the tribal reserves. His father states that he wants Mathabane to be a man like him, but Mathabane counters that all his father does is drink and gamble—he’d rather die than be like him. Mathabane threatens the two men with a knife. They leave, saying they’ll come back tomorrow, so Mathabane moves in with Granny for two weeks. The issue never arises again.
Mathabane’s claim that his father is not a man to emulate condemns not only his father, but his father’s tribal way of life. If the result of a fierce loyalty to tribal custom is to behave selfishly like his father, Mathabane and his family will both be better off if he leaves such beliefs behind.
Mathabane is stressed about the conflict with his father and expects to do poorly on his upcoming exam, which will determine his placement in a secondary school. To his relief, he receives first-class marks and the government awards him a scholarship to attend a good English-speaking school. The family celebrates. Although his tuition is paid for, Mathabane still has to come up with money for uniforms and books. The family pitches in, even Aunt Bushy and Uncle Piet—Uncle Piet tells Mathabane that his academic success is bringing them all honor in their community.
Mathabane’s academic success honors not only him, but his whole family as well. While this is certainly something to be proud of, it also suggests that Mathabane carries the weight of his family’s hopes and expectations on his shoulders. As the only person in his family to make it this far through an education, Mathabane faces a tremendous amount of pressure to do well and lead his family out of poverty.
With financial help to pay for school, Mathabane devotes more time to tennis practice and adopts a strict regimen of yoga, jogging, and abstinence. His game begins improving to the point that he even beats Scaramouche on occasion. Mathabane becomes the captain of a local tennis team and leads the team to several victories.
Mathabane’s disciplined behavior contrasts severely with his father’s selfishness and drunkenness, suggesting that such discipline plays a large part in their differing outcomes in life.
During this time, Mathabane meets a Zulu player named Tom who is outfitted with nice equipment. Tom tells him about a white-owned tennis club that sometimes sponsors him, which is owned by a German man named Wilfred, a white liberal who treats black people well because he thinks apartheid is comparable to Nazism. Tom is leaving for another tennis club, so he introduces Mathabane to Wilfred to take his place. Wilfred and Mathabane form an “immediate” friendship, but Wilfred is horrified to hear Mathabane’s account of what the ghettos caused by apartheid are actually like. Wilfred invites Mathabane to play at his “ranch” and asks if he’ll educate Wilfred and his friends on apartheid’s true nature.
Just as Mathabane’s relationship with Mrs. Smith helps him to see white people as human beings and individuals, Mathabane’s relationship with Wilfred helps Wilfred to understand the full scope of apartheid’s oppression. The manner in which Mathabane learns from Mrs. Smith and Wilfred learns from Mathabane suggests that personal relationships with people different from oneself are critical to bridging the gaps between segregated groups and letting go of one’s own personal prejudice.