When the matriculation results come out, Mathabane and several of his academic peers receive third-class marks—effectively a failing grade. They are outraged, and they and their teachers suspect that the government sabotaged the results. After several complaints, the Bantu Education Department changes them to second-class marks, which are still too low. Mathabane broods and sinks into depression. His mother pushes him to forget America for the time being and get himself a passbook so he can take the job for the food company. Mathabane doesn’t want one, though—it “represent[s] too much emotional pain.”
The government’s potential sabotage of students’ exam scores suggests that it does not want black students to excel in academics, perhaps because they could further challenge the system. For Mathabane, obtaining a passbook symbolizes submitting to apartheid law and accepting the unnecessary burden of stamps, permits, and every bureaucratic hurdle the government uses to disadvantage black people.
Mathabane hopes that Stan will write to him and call him to America so that he won’t need a passbook, but come February he has neither a letter nor a job. Andre arranges for Mathabane to play on an all-white, top-level junior tennis squad. At first Mathabane is self-conscious as the only black teammate, but the white boys start opening up to him and making jokes, and as he grows comfortable he quickly rises to their level. He spends eight weeks playing with them, but then the squad disbands for the season while individual players go to tournaments in Europe and America. The coach tells Mathabane that he needs to keep playing upper-level players, but the trip costs five times his father’s annual income. Mathabane is desperate to go to America.
Mathabane’s continued ability to make friends with white people not only suggests that he is growing as a person, but that apartheid’s influence over white people is beginning to weaken. Mathabane’s quick rise in skill after playing with better athletes underscores how critical it is for an individual to be in an environment that challenges them. However, Mathabane’s lack of money to play in international tournaments suggests that finding such challenging environments is difficult for black South Africans, who lack the resources to seek out such opportunities.