Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 44 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After South African schools reopen, travel restrictions are eased enough that Mathabane can return to Wilfred’s tennis ranch after months away. Wilfred is relieved to see him—he’d thought Mathabane was dead or detained. Mathabane tells him about all the violence and police brutality. Wilfred is shocked and angered; the government suppressed most of this news from the white population, apparently trying to hide “police excesses” and the full scope of the rebellion. After Mathabane finishes speaking, Wilfred asks if he’ll speak to all the white people in the bar tonight, to explain his full story to them. Mathabane is nervous about the idea, but Wilfred promises he’ll deal with anyone who poses a problem.
The government’s suppression of news from its white population suggests that it fears their outrage as well, especially if they begin to voice opposition to the police’s violent repression of dissenters. With the government trying to keep both its white and black populations ignorant about how each other lives or feels, it seems unlikely that apartheid could have lasted longer than it did. Although many white people support apartheid, white resistance to it seems to be growing.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
That evening, Mathabane stands on the bar and tells a roomful of white people about the violence and misery of black life in South Africa, including everything that happened in the rebellion. Everyone looks shocked and dismayed. He explains that, since the mobs couldn’t reach the actual white people, they attacked police collaborators and other groups instead as “symbols of oppression.” Some know families in the “black middle class” who are successful, but Mathabane explains that those are a small minority of people who submit themselves to the system. He says that black people don’t want to rule white people, only to live as equals alongside them. One white man listening to Mathabane is furious, claiming that black people are white people’s “eternal enemies” and “bloodthirsty” cannibals. Mathabane’s calm and confident response gains the approval of the room. That evening, someone drives him all the way back to Alexandra.
Just as Mathabane deconstructed his own personal prejudice by forming relationships with white people, Wilfred’s white friends have the chance to take apart their own prejudice by listening to the honest experiences of a black person. This again suggests that exposure and personal relationships are critical to tearing down people’s personal prejudice, as ignorance and fear of the unknown begins to vanish. Mathabane’s talk about attacking “symbols of oppression” suggests that when anger and hatred rise to a certain level, violence will erupt toward the people around oneself if they cannot reach the actual oppressors.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Police units start raiding classrooms to arrest students over their involvement in the rebellion, so Mathabane stops going to school again. Through Wilfred, he meets another German man named Helmut who asks if Mathabane will play tennis with him, even though Helmut is not very good. Helmut is in South Africa on a temporary work contract and hates apartheid’s race laws, so he and Mathabane purposefully flaunt them by playing together on whites-only tennis courts. Whenever a restaurant owner refuses to serve Helmut and Mathabane together, Helmut rages at them. Helmut also teaches Mathabane about the Holocaust, and when he is finished they agree that apartheid is effectively a second Holocaust—the world watches on without doing anything, just as it did in the 1940s.
Helmut’s opinion that apartheid parallels Nazism suggests that just as Germany still bears tremendous shame over its actions in World War II, apartheid will be a permanent scar on South Africa’s history. Helmut’s deliberate breaking of race laws constitutes its own form of protest, since it signals that he, as a white man, will not be bullied by the government or allow apartheid’s authors to define whom he can and cannot be friends with.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As other black people see Mathabane spending time with Helmut, they again call him a “traitor to the struggle” and an “Uncle Tom.” Mathabane feels pulled between his own world and the belief that not all white people are “monolithic” or “racists.” Helmut offers to be any help he can to Mathabane; he’d even risk his life for him. In increasing boldness, Helmut starts driving Mathabane all the way to his street in Alexandra, even though Mathabane warns him that black people might catch him and kill him. However, one night while Mathabane is walking home, Jarvas and his old gang—who’ve grown far more violent—surround him and accuse him of being an informant. The attack Mathabane, but he manages to break free and escape, running home.
Like his conflict between his mother and father, Mathabane again finds himself caught between worlds. Ironically, the black people who think him a traitor for spending time with white people are leaning as heavily into their own racial prejudice. Their demand that Mathabane only spend time with black people doing black things echoes the refrain of segregation, which is the root cause of all of their suffering. Mathabane’s decision to live between worlds, to integrate his life, seems the only true path forward, away from racism.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
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When Mathabane’s mother hears about the attack, she tries to convince Mathabane to stop seeing his white friends. Even if some white people are good, black people like his father, who’ve only ever suffered, will never understand.
This again suggests that, although black people suffer under apartheid’s racism, they bear their own racial prejudice toward white people by believing that no white person can possibly be good.
Themes
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Mathabane can see clouds of smoke in the distance and hears gunshots. Youths come from that direction carrying boxes of government rations, exclaiming that someone rammed a bus through the wall of a Coloured school, where the government was storing food. The boys tell Mathabane that they set fire to the books. The thought of so many pieces of classic literature burning pains Mathabane, so he goes to the school himself to see if he can rescue any. Most are burned, but he finds a few that survived. However, an army truck arrives, and soldiers emerge. Mathabane hides himself in a ditch for hours, knowing he’ll be killed on sight if they find him. He returns home after they’ve left, and he and George retrieve the books that afternoon.
Once again, Mathabane’s knowledge that soldiers will kill him on sight suggests that the government’s forces are acting as authoritarians, killing indiscriminately and without trial or defense. Mathabane’s decision to retrieve books rather than food suggests that he recognizes education’s longer-lasting value. Food will only nourish for a few days, whereas books can sharpen one’s mind and benefit an individual for the rest of his or her life.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon