The passbooks that each black adult in South Africa must carry represents apartheid’s dominion over black peoples lives. By apartheid law, every adult must always have their passbook with them, complete with every stamp and form that proves their right to exist; Mathabane calls it “the black man’s passport to existence.” If someone’s passbook is not in order, the police arrest them and either extort a bribe or throw them in jail, regardless of reason or cause. The arbitrariness of such a crime as not having the right stamps reflects the arbitrary power white people wield over black people under apartheid. Similarly, due to bureaucracy and unrealistic expectations, it is nearly impossible for someone to have their passbook completely in order, regardless of how hard they try, reflecting the near-impossibility of black people succeeding in life under apartheid. Mathabane resists getting a passbook for as long as possible, reflecting his resistance of apartheid’s rule over his life in general. He thinks that if he gets a passbook, “the system will have succeeded in shackling my being with a chain that I would never be able to unloose.” However, he ultimately gets a passbook to take a job and receive his passport, suggesting that even he must work within the system to ultimately rise above it.
Passbooks Quotes in Kaffir Boy
[Uncle Piet] had been released—without being charged—and given a warning that he better get himself a pass soon, for he was getting too tall and was beginning to wear long pants, factors which alone made him adult enough to carry a pass.