News that Stan sponsored Mathabane’s entry into the Sugar Circuit infuriates many, including the black tennis leagues who regard Mathabane as a “traitor.” For the first matches in Cape Town, Mathabane will stay with a Transkeian diplomat’s family, whose diplomatic position make them “honorary whites” and allows them to live in the white part of town, proving that apartheid’s race laws are groundless.
The existence of “honorary whites” suggests that apartheid’s racial hierarchy has no basis in reality. And if apartheid’s hierarchy has no basis, then neither can it’s segregation, suggesting that all of the pain apartheid causes is purely to keep the white minority in power over the black majority.
In December 1977, Mathabane boards a plane for the first time in his life. In the middle of the flight, he panics when he needs the bathroom but cannot figure out which toilet is for black people until he discovers the toilets are not segregated. When the plane lands, a taxi takes him to a five-star hotel where he’s “treated like a dignitary.” Although luxurious, the hotel angers Mathabane for how different it is from the conditions his parents live in. The black hotel staff refer to him “master” or “sir” even when he tells them not to, because they are afraid of losing their jobs. Guests in the hotel usually assume that Mathabane is a black American. However, he is not allowed to visit the white beaches near the hotel.
The hotel staff’s fine treatment of Mathabane and other guests’ assumption that he is a black American suggests that apartheid’s racism is specifically aimed at black South Africans, not black people in general. Additionally, while Mathabane grew up in desperate poverty, constantly on the brink of starvation, it was all he knew and thus did not seem so bad. Now, seeing how other people live, Mathabane’s anger suggests that he is fully realizing the injustice of his family’s poverty while white people possess such exorbitant wealth.
Mathabane loses his matches in Port Elizabeth and he flies to Cape Town to meet the Transkeian family. However, his first evening there he steps in a pothole and sprains his ankle, causing him to lose his next match and forfeit the ones after that. Mathabane feels terrible and imagines that the world will judge all black athletes based on his failure. To use the rest of his time, Mathabane sets up a tennis clinic in one of Cape Town’s ghettos. He meets several young players who show promise, but knows that without coaching and resources they’ll fall out of the sport.
Mathabane’s feeling that all black athletes will be judged by his failure may be accurate, but it seems far too great a burden for one teenager to carry. While athletes like Ali or Ashe can win a victory for all black people, the lack of black athletes in South African sport suggests that each failure feels like a failure for all black people as well. This seems especially true when white Afrikaners watch, hoping to see a black athlete lose so as to justify their views of white supremacy.
The Sugar Circuit teaches Mathabane that he won’t improve his game without good competition from elite white players. With Scaramouche, Andre, and Wilfred’s support, Mathabane decides to apply for membership at the Wanderer’s Club. When he arrives, he asks a black security guard to direct him to the club owner’s office. The guard refuses. Mathabane finds a different entrance and runs into a white woman in tennis garb. He asks her for help and she gives him directions to the right office immediately.
The fact that Mathabane receives more racism from a black security guard than a white tennis player suggests that some black people absorb apartheid’s prejudice toward other black people, especially when they work for white institutions. This tragically suggests that the oppressed may internalize their oppressor’s low view of themselves in order to fit in.
When Mathabane explains his case to the owner, Mr. Ferguson, Ferguson states that he would like Mathabane to be a member in their club, but apartheid policy dictates they’d have to build separate amenities just for him, since he’s the only black member. Ferguson thinks this unlikely, but says Mathabane can play in their tournaments as long as he’s willing to use the servant’s bathroom. Mathabane is frustrated by this “white man’s version of integrated sports,” but tells Ferguson he’ll think about it. He hasn’t seen his final matriculation score yet, but he’s certainly passed. Now that he’s done with school, his only options are university and work, and he has yet to hear anything from Stan.
The “white man’s version of integrated sports” that Ferguson offers Mathabane reiterates his belief that regardless of success, he’ll never be truly free or treated as an equal in South Africa. However, even if Ferguson sincerely wants Mathabane to play in his club, the complicated legal and logistical hurdles that apartheid invokes suggests that dismantling such a system’s hold over sports will take a long time, perhaps even years.