Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Kaffir Boy: Chapter 53 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One evening, the police arrest Mathabane for not having a passbook, but let him off with a warning. Mathabane gathers all his papers and goes to the administrative office to apply for a passbook, but the clerk refuses—first because Mathabane’s parents don’t have the right permit to live in Alexandra, and then because Mathabane is unemployed. When Mathabane explains that he can’t look for work without a passbook, the clerk says it’s not his problem and brushes Mathabane aside. Mathabane does not know what to do. His parents pressure him to find work. He still receives anonymous death threats for his relationships with white people. Mathabane starts to wonder if America is a foolish dream, and realizes he is being selfish thinking only of himself and his tennis career.
Mathabane can’t get a passbook without a job, yet can’t look for work without a passbook, which is obviously an unwinnable situation. However, the clerk’s dismissal of it as Mathabane’s problem, not his own, suggests that it is yet another intentional measure that apartheid uses to oppress black people and obstruct their progress through endless and absurd bureaucracy. This further suggests that apartheid uses all manner of obstructive measures to hold black South Africans back from self-sufficiency.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Mathabane mentions to Andre that he’s looking for work, and Andre connects him with Barclays Bank, where his father is an executive. Barclays is non-discriminatory and pays a handsome salary, and can even help line up a passbook for Mathabane. After a successful interview, an associate at Barclays gives Mathabane a formal letter that qualifies him for a passbook, regardless of paperwork. Mathabane goes to the passbook office where he’s sent through an hours-long, bureaucratic process involving mountains of paperwork, physicals, chest X-rays, genital exams, and blood tests. All of these procedures are performed by impatient and derisive white and black clerks. Mathabane finds the entire process infuriating and demeaning.
A white executive’s ability to quickly qualify Mathabane for a passbook suggests the system is not actually concerned with what paperwork he does or doesn’t have, but merely aims to make life as difficult as possible for black people. Likewise, the long and invasive series of exams he must endure seems specifically designed to humiliate black people, again suggesting that many of apartheid’s systems are simply designed to be as obstructive and demeaning as possible.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Mathabane takes the job at Barclays Bank, still holding out hope that he’ll receive a scholarship offer from America. He starts in the checking department but quickly moves up positions until his bosses are considering him for a management role. In the afternoons and on weekends, Mathabane continues playing tennis. The first month of Mathabane’s job, his salary is triple what his parents make combined. His family is overjoyed and immediately wants to buy all sorts of things and move out of Alexandra, but Mathabane is determined to stay. Mathabane plays in weekend tournaments whenever he can, including an illustrious Grand Prix, though he’s eliminated early.
Mathabane’s huge salary is a direct result of his education, which proves right his mother’s early claims that education will take him further in the world than anything else. Even if Mathabane were never to make it to America, his fight for his modern education has already taken him farther than his father’s tribalism ever could, suggesting that modern education is worth letting go of tribal identity for.
Themes
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Finally, Mathabane hears from American universities, starting with Princeton, which offers to underwrite all fees and tuition. He asks for letters of recommendation from Wilfred and Owen Williams and writes a letter to thank Stan. However, aside from his family, Mathabane keeps the news a secret, since the South African government often tries to prevent black citizens from leaving the country, most likely so they can’t testify about the true nature of apartheid to countries like America.
South Africa’s attempt to keep black people from leaving the country or sharing their experiences suggest they know apartheid is an unacceptable practice that the world will condemn them for. This, too, suggests that apartheid is not a necessary or justified system, but merely a way for white people to cruelly exploit and profit off of black people.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
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A month after Mathabane sends his full application to Princeton, they send word that he is accepted and can begin in six months’ time. His mother is proud of him, but sad that he’ll be leaving. One of Mathabane’s sisters lets slip to her friends that he’s going to university in America, and Mathabane starts receiving even more anonymous threats. Mathabane receives another letter from a college in South Carolina, offering a full scholarship and competitive tennis as long as he can be there in two months, allowing a quicker escape. Mathabane is overjoyed, as are his family and Wilfred. Owen Williams arranges to help him get his passport in time and notifies Stan that Mathabane is going to America.
The threats that Mathabane receives suggests that not only the apartheid government, but also his own black community does not want him to leave South Africa and find his success in America. Curiously, this suggests that people in oppression often do not want to see their peers rise from that oppression and leave them behind. In this way, both apartheid and the black community cooperate to hold young aspiring people like Mathabane down, even when they possess true talent and potential.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
One of Owen William’s friends takes Mathabane to get a passport, but the government refuses to issue one for at least three months—too late for Mathabane to begin school on time. Stan suggests that they ask the American consulate in Pretoria for help, and once Mathabane explains his case, the Americans award him a visa even without his passport. After showing the South African government the American visa and plane tickets to South Carolina, the government gives Mathabane his passport within two weeks. When the passport arrives, Mathabane quits his banking jobs and spends his last months practicing tennis and being with family and friends.
The Americans’ willingness to give Mathabane a visa even without a passport suggests that they recognize South Africa’s attempt to hold Mathabane back. Likewise, the fact that the South African government gives Mathabane a passport in two weeks after the American consulate grants him a visa suggests that their initial claim—that it would take three months—is yet another demonstration of apartheid’s attempts to keep exceptional black people from realizing their true potential.
Themes
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon