Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Mathabane’s Mother (Magdalene) Character Analysis

Mathabane, George, Florah, Merriam, and Linah’s mother. Mathabane’s mother does not share her husband’s devotion to tribalism, but since he owns her by tribal law, she follows his lead for much of their marriage. However, when she develops an interest in Christianity—despite her husband strictly forbidding it—Mathabane’s mother begins opposing his father more and more, challenging his opinions and authority. Mathabane’s mother is Mathabane’s strongest support throughout his upbringing, taking on extra work to fund his education since she never had the opportunity to learn herself. She states several times that she places all her hopes and dreams in Mathabane. Although Mathabane’s mother starts as a “nominal Christian” and maintains her belief in voodoo for her whole life, she becomes heavily invested in a local church and constantly tries to pull Mathabane into Christianity. Although Mathabane’s mother is proud of her son’s academic prowess, she does not understand the value of tennis, and remains skeptical that it will lead to anything good until he finally receives an athletic scholarship to an American college. Mathabane’s mother is the antithesis of his father: supportive rather than opposing, gentle rather than angry, and open to the possibility that some white people are kind rather than evil.

Mathabane’s Mother (Magdalene) Quotes in Kaffir Boy

The Kaffir Boy quotes below are all either spoken by Mathabane’s Mother (Magdalene) or refer to Mathabane’s Mother (Magdalene). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Touchstone edition of Kaffir Boy published in 1986.
Chapter 7 Quotes

My father was now a completely changed man; so changed that he now began drinking and gambling excessively, and from time to time quarreling with my mother over money matters and over what he called my mother’s streak of insubordination not befitting “the woman he bought.” But he still tried, in his own way, to be a father and a husband.

Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“You and Papa should not have had me. I’m not happy in this world.”

Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

As we had no nursery rhymes nor storybooks, and, besides, as no one in the house knew how to read, my mother’s stories served as a kind of library, a golden fountain of knowledge where we children learned about right and wrong, about good and evil.

Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

“Education will open doors where none seem to exist. It’ll make people talk to you, listen to you and help you; people who otherwise wouldn’t bother. It will make you soar, like a bird lifting up into the endless blue sky, and leave poverty, hunger, and suffering behind. […] Above all, it’ll make you a somebody in this world.”

Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

Worst of all, I found among members of some churches a readiness to accept their lot as God’s will, a willingness to disparage their own blackness and heritage as inferior to the white man’s Christianity, a readiness to give up fighting to make things just in this world, in the hope that God’s justice would prevail in the hereafter.

Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mathabane’s Mother (Magdalene) Character Timeline in Kaffir Boy

The timeline below shows where the character Mathabane’s Mother (Magdalene) appears in Kaffir Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...an entirely different way of life. Mathabane’s father belongs to the Venda tribe, and his mother is Tsonga. They met and married and moved into a tiny shack in Alexandra, where... (full context)
Chapter 2
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...Mathabane wakes to see his father leaving for work while it is still dark. His mother steps out to use the bathroom but rushes back in, yelling that Mathabane and his... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Outside, Mathabane hears gunshots—it sounds like “the world [i]s somehow coming to an end.” His mother lights a candle so he can dress, but keeps it away from the window. She... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
As soon as his mother leaves, Mathabane bolts the door shut and barricades it with furniture so the police cannot... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...time. Mathabane stems the bleeding from George’s head while they wait three hours for their mother to return home. (full context)
Chapter 3
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane remembers that the police didn’t find his mother, and realizes she must be hiding in the house somewhere. He rushes inside and hears... (full context)
Chapter 4
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...not quite six years old, police raids occur in Alexandra on a weekly basis. His mother starts having premonitions about which days and hours the police will arrive, and often she... (full context)
Chapter 5
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...crime, unemployment, [i]s one of the worst a black man could commit.” Mathabane and his mother hope that his father will return in four weeks, the usual sentence. When he does... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
After two months of his father’s absence, Mathabane asks his mother why his father is arrested so often. His mother explains that his father’s passbook is... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...go by, Mathabane’s family grows desperate. He is so hungry he often passes out. His mother struggles to pay rent on their shack. Zulu men arrive with spears and machetes, demanding... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
January, February, and March pass without Mathabane’s father returning home. His mother’s personality darkens, and she starts drinking heavily. Mathabane himself grows irritable and angry, picking fights... (full context)
Chapter 7
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane’s maternal grandmother, Granny, helps pay some of their rent. Mathabane asks his mother why they don’t just... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane, his mother, and his siblings leave early each morning to meet the garbage trucks at the dump,... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...cruel, like “that of a black man being changed into a brute.” He tells Mathabane’s mother about the slave-like labor he did on white farms, building white roads, and shares his... (full context)
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...so hungry that he begins to hate his newborn sister, Maria, for nursing at his mother’s breast, since she gets to eat while he does not. One day, he’s so hungry... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...Mathabane’s father drinks and gambles much of their income away, and often fights with Mathabane’s mother, referring to her as “the woman he bought.” However, one evening his father stumbles home... (full context)
Chapter 9
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...He also sees two white men with them, who Mathabane believes are policemen until his mother tells him that they’re just Christians. Mathabane wants to go see the evangelists, and his... (full context)
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Mathabane’s father doesn’t like Christianity, but understands Mathabane’s mother’s point and agrees to take the family to the night meeting. At the meeting, a... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
At home, Mathabane’s mother tells his father that there must be more to Christianity; they left too early to... (full context)
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...own tribal stories, but certainly not true. When Mathabane’s father realizes that Mathabane and his mother are still discussing Christianity, he threatens to cut out their tongues, which pushes Mathabane further... (full context)
Chapter 10
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
One day Mathabane sits in the yard, watching after his siblings while his mother looks for work in town. As he watches stray dogs sniff at a rotting cat’s... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane asks his mother why their father can’t provide for them, but she has no real answer. When he... (full context)
Chapter 11
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Mathabane’s mother and father believe in witchcraft, that any misfortune that befalls them is the result of... (full context)
Chapter 12
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
After Mathabane, his mother, and his siblings become “nominal Christians,” his mother continues looking for work to no avail.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
That winter, Mathabane’s mother uses a burning brazier to fight off the bitter cold in their shack. However, one... (full context)
Chapter 14
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Maria falls ill, so Mathabane’s mother takes her, George, and Florah, to a clinic, leaving Mathabane home alone. He spends the... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
...the bucket, the men dump its contents at his family’s door and leave. When his mother gets home, she chides him for making fun of people stuck in a job they... (full context)
Chapter 16
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
The day that Mathabane and his father arrive back home, Mathabane’s mother gives birth to yet another daughter and names her Merriam. Money becomes even tighter. Six... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...a piece of a magazine with pictures of big beautiful houses inside. He tells his mother that he will build her a house like that, but she tells him that even... (full context)
Chapter 17
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...again, and the family again goes hungry. Mathabane starts begging for food, which infuriates his mother. When she catches him begging, she tries to beat him, but he is too quick... (full context)
Chapter 19
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
After three years of “constant police terror,” every time Mathabane’s mother wakes him at night he assumes the police are raiding their neighborhood. However, one day... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane’s mother and Granny resolve to get Uncle Piet out of jail, otherwise he may be sent... (full context)
Chapter 20
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Mathabane’s mother takes him to the superintendent’s office to apply for papers, though she won’t tell him... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Mathabane’s feet are frozen, so his mother lets him sit with a group of men around a trash fire. The older men... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Mathabane and his mother wait seven hours in line, and then several more as various offices send them this... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...a Friday. Mathabane sees people singing with happiness because it is payday. He asks his mother why his father never sings. His father has grown even more sullen—although Mathabane and his... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane and his mother finally meet with the white superintendent, but Mathabane cowers with fear as soon as he... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The following Monday, Mathabane and his mother take the note to the clinic and again wait in line for hours. Mathabane stares... (full context)
Chapter 21
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
When Mathabane’s mother starts hinting that Mathabane be attending school soon, he vows to never go. He runs... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
They meet the principal at school, who warmly greets Mathabane’s mother and says that he’s heard much about Mathabane already. His mother tells the principal it... (full context)
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
With registration settled, Mathabane’s mother and Granny take him home, and Mathabane leaves to play soccer with friends. Part of... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Mathabane’s mother doesn’t want to talk about the fight, but Granny pushes her to tell Mathabane what... (full context)
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
When Mathabane’s mother tells him that she never had the chance to go to school, though she always... (full context)
Chapter 22
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...Tsonga, and how to stand and sit when told. All the children hate it. Mathabane’s mother tells him that if he learns something, then “it’s worth it.” (full context)
Chapter 23
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...him, his father is irritated that it is so much and briefly quarrels with Mathabane’s mother. However, Mathabane’s father gives him the full sum, shocking Mathabane. He wants to kiss his... (full context)
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
When Florah turns six, her mother enrolls her in school as well, doubling the fees their family must pay. Mathabane’s teachers... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
When Mathabane tells his mother he wants to quit school, she begs him to stay and promises that when she... (full context)
Chapter 25
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...this black man was more important than all the others white people have killed. His mother says she heard King was fighting for equal rights for black people in America. Mathabane... (full context)
Chapter 26
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...truant for a month, so that he’ll be expelled. Each day he lies to his mother that he’s going to school and then spends the day with the other kids in... (full context)
Chapter 27
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...sure the gangsters are gone, Mathabane sprints home and faints on his doorstep until his mother revives him. (full context)
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mathabane tries to tell his mother what he saw, but cannot speak and faints again, waking the next day in his... (full context)
Chapter 28
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...seems to hold no hope for him. Although he’s always been a fighter like his mother, on a particular winter afternoon he feels “unloved, unwanted, abandoned, and betrayed” by the world.... (full context)
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
In a fearful voice, Mathabane asks if anyone will miss him if he dies. His mother reminds him of how much his sisters and brother need an older sibling to look... (full context)
Chapter 29
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
One night, Mathabane’s father suggests to his mother that they use their savings to brew beer and join a “stockvel,” an arrangement between... (full context)
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...the fight dies down, Mathabane’s father offers to quit gambling and buying alcohol if Mathabane’s mother will agree to start selling beer. Privately, Mathabane hopes they try it, since stockvel families... (full context)
Chapter 30
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...she treats him as her favorite grandchild. One day, Granny excitedly tells Mathabane and his mother that the Smiths gave her permission to bring Mathabane to work with her so they... (full context)
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
The day before he meets the Smiths, Mathabane’s mother informs the principal why he’ll be gone and scrubs Mathabane furiously, even though he normally... (full context)
Chapter 33
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...but Aunt Bushy becomes pregnant soon after, with no husband to provide for her. Mathabane’s mother gets pregnant as well, and when the baby girl, Linah, is born, “the family [is]... (full context)
Chapter 34
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...playing tennis, Mathabane continues working to pay for school and baby food. He tells his mother that he wants to drop out at the end of the year to work in... (full context)
Chapter 35
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...same resources as white athletes in South Africa, they would be producing many champions. Mathabane’s mother worries that tennis distracts him from his studies. Mathabane’s father thinks tennis is white and... (full context)
Chapter 36
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Although Mathabane takes his mother’s side on most things, he completely disagrees with her about religion. His mother is now... (full context)
Chapter 39
Christianity Theme Icon
One day, Mathabane’s mother tells him that she’s joined a new church filled with truly godly people. She starts... (full context)
Christianity Theme Icon
Still, Mathabane worries about his mother, so one Sunday he goes to church with her, ready to denounce it if he... (full context)
Chapter 40
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...nearly blind. He goes to several hospitals, but they won’t admit him fast enough. His mother decides someone is practicing voodoo against him and takes him to a witch doctor. Mathabane... (full context)
Chapter 44
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
When Mathabane’s mother hears about the attack, she tries to convince Mathabane to stop seeing his white friends.... (full context)
Chapter 45
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
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Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...Mathabane grows paranoid to the point that his health deteriorates, and learning becomes difficult. Mathabane’s mother prays that God will protect him, though he can’t understand why God didn’t protect all... (full context)
Chapter 49
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...telling him to quit. Scaramouche and Wilfred advise Mathabane to play the tournament, while Mathabane’s mother advises him to quit. One week out, Mathabane calls Owen Williams, an organizer, and tells... (full context)
Chapter 52
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 53
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 54
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Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...South Africa on a tennis scholarship.” It seems a “miracle.” Mathabane hugs and kisses his mother and each of his siblings. His father stands impassively against the wall. He pities his... (full context)