Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy

by

Mark Mathabane

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Passbooks Symbol Analysis

Passbooks Symbol Icon

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

The Kaffir Boy quotes below all refer to the symbol of Passbooks. 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 19 Quotes

[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.

Related Characters: Johannes Mark Mathabane (speaker), Uncle Piet
Related Symbols: Passbooks
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
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Passbooks Symbol Timeline in Kaffir Boy

The timeline below shows where the symbol Passbooks appears in Kaffir Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...he can dress, but keeps it away from the window. She looks frantically for her passbook until Mathabane remembers that he’d hid it under the table, beneath the cardboard he sleeps... (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
...“Operation Clean-Up Month,” during which police sift through Alexandra to arrest people for having their passbooks out of order. Just after midnight, the police arrive again, banging on the locked door... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...he was sleeping, hiding under the bed and drag him out. The flip through his passbook, demanding to know why certain taxes aren’t paid. Mathabane’s fathers stands helpless, sheepish, while one... (full context)
Chapter 6
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...However, a policeman arrests him on his way there for having a stamp in his passbook that signifies he has no job. “His crime, unemployment, [i]s one of the worst a... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...his mother why his father is arrested so often. His mother explains that his father’s passbook is not in order, nor can it ever be, and that every black person must... (full context)
Chapter 7
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...for the family once again, but this isn’t the case. His father needs a new passbook, and although he leaves before sunrise every day to get one from the administrative office,... (full context)
Chapter 17
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...that his whole neighborhood is full of “refugees” like his parents, black people without their passbooks in order. His father is arrested again, and the family again goes hungry. Mathabane starts... (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
...school to buy some bread, but the police picked him up for not having a passbook, since he is unusually tall and can pass as an adult. (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
...Granny’s things to get the money. The court warns Uncle Piet that he needs a passbook now that he looks like an adult, even though he wears a school uniform. The... (full context)
Chapter 21
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
...ready. The principal sympathizes that the paperwork is horrible, but as important for children as passbooks are for adults. Looking through the paperwork, the principal raises the concern that Mathabane is... (full context)
Chapter 52
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 53
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)