Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In 1974, after two and half years of playing tennis, Mathabane wins his first tournament. Wilfred displays the trophy in the bar at his ranch, and Mathabane becomes the pride of his school. He continues developing friendships with white liberals and speaking to them as equals, on a first-name basis. However, such freedom ends each day as soon as Mathabane leaves the tennis club and returns to the reality of apartheid law. The two worlds make him feel like “Jekyll and Hyde” and he realizes that he struggles more and more to go back to living a repressed, subservient existence whenever he goes home.
Wilfred’s ranch offers Mathabane his first taste of freedom and being recognized as a full human being, valued on his merits rather than his skin color. Although Mathabane once said that the ghetto and its suffering was the only world he knew, his experience of being treated like a real person at Wilfred’s ranch ironically highlights the low value he has in the eyes of apartheid law, and how destitute such a life is.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
One day, Mathabane’s mother tells him that she’s joined a new church filled with truly godly people. She starts attending not only on Sundays, but on almost every other day of the week as well. Mathabane notices that his mother’s demeanor changes: she never angers or lashes out, and she starts visiting sickle people and bringing derelicts and poor people home to eat with their family.
Mathabane’s mother’s change in character suggests that her growing devotion to Christianity has a positive impact on her life, and that rather than being exploitative, Christianity can be a force for good, encouraging people toward compassion and generosity.
Themes
Christianity Theme Icon
Still, Mathabane worries about his mother, so one Sunday he goes to church with her, ready to denounce it if he sees anything suspicious. The people in the church seem as passionate and happy as his mother. During the service, his mother starts speaking in tongues and shaking. Mathabane doesn’t understand it, nor does he understand the interpretation that the preacher gives, but leaves feeling that his mother is not crazy; she has a connection with God. However, Mathabane doesn’t think he could ever believe as she does, especially when God ignores black suffering and seems to favor white people.
The question of why God should allow white people to profit off of black people’s suffering is never resolved in Mathabane’s autobiography, and it hangs over the narrative’s treatment of Christianity. This lingering question creates a nuanced depiction of Christianity—the book ends neither overwhelmingly supportive of it nor overwhelmingly critical of the religion, but rather recognizes both its strengths and its contradictions.
Themes
Christianity Theme Icon