One night, Mathabane’s family’s shack collapses, forcing them to move to a new one. Shortly after the move, Mathabane’s mother weans George by smearing red pepper on her breasts so that each time he tries to suckle, his mouth burns with pain until he no longer tries anymore. As soon as George is weaned, his father starts teaching him the “tribal ways of life,” just as he teaches them to Mathabane. His father is one of a number of patriarchs in Alexandra who adhere religiously to tribal tradition, believing that someday all the white people will leave, and Africa will revert to a tribal society. However, while Mathabane’s father “force-feed[s] us tribalism” Mathabane is mingling with Western culture through his friends and their less-traditional parents.
The contrast between Mathabane’s tribal home life and his friends’ Westernizing families establishes the thematic conflict between tribal identity and a modernizing world. Although respecting one’s heritage is valuable, Mathabane’s father’s belief that the tribal lifestyle will return to Africa suggests that his tribalism is not merely a remembrance of the past, but an obsession with it.
Mathabane’s father’s tribal rituals cover everything from warding off spirits and dark magic to daily religious practices. Once, Mathabane’s father furiously beats him for speaking while eating, which breaks tribal tradition. This harsh treatment makes Mathabane begin to hate his father, and he vows to kill him when he is grown. His mother tells him that his father grew up in the tribes, and it’s difficult for him to live as if he weren’t still there, rather than in the city. However, Mathabane continues to resent his father’s rituals. After his father learns that Mathabane is speaking languages other than Venda around his friends, he gets so furious he threatens to cut out his son’s tongue.
Mathabane’s father’s violence and Mathabane’s own hatred of him demonstrates how the violence of life under apartheid seeps into their family as well. His mother’s argument that his father cannot transition to their new lifestyle in the city suggests that Mathabane’s father is fighting a losing battle, trying to resurrect and preserve a lifestyle that modernization has already made obsolete.