Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy


Mark Mathabane

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Themes and Colors
Apartheid’s Structural Oppression Theme Icon
Personal Prejudice Theme Icon
Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education Theme Icon
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, and Trauma Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Kaffir Boy, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Apartheid’s Structural Oppression

Mark Mathabane’s autobiography, Kaffir Boy, is an account of Mathabane’s childhood growing up as a black person under apartheid, South Africa’s set of segregation laws installed in 1948 by white Afrikaners (Dutch, German, and French Europeans who settled in South Africa). He describes how every aspect of apartheid is designed to maintain a strict racial hierarchy, with the minority of white Europeans at the very top and black Africans at the very…

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Personal Prejudice

As Mark Mathabane describes it, South African society is replete with prejudice and racism on an individual level, which both contribute to apartheid and are exacerbated by it. As an oppressed black child, Mathabane spends most of his childhood hating and fearing all white people. However, as he grows up and begins to meet “white liberals” who value him as an equal human being, Mathabane begins to realize that his own prejudices are ill-founded. Mathabane’s…

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Tribal Identity vs. Modern Education

Mark Mathabane’s father is a member of the Venda tribe—some of whom still live on a tribal reserve—who grew up on tribal lands before poverty forced him to emigrate to Johannesburg. As his eldest son, Mathabane’s life is framed by two opposing influences. On one side, his father demands the family live by tribal law and beliefs, submitting themselves to their ancestral heritage. On the other, Mathabane recognizes that society is changing, and modern…

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Anger, Hatred, and Violence

In Mark Mathabane’s experience of apartheid in South Africa, the black population is rife with anger and hatred as a result of their severe oppression. Although this hatred is primarily directed toward their white oppressors, it also deflects toward the people around them, even those who suffer alongside them. Even for people like Mathabane who try to live peaceably, festering anger and hatred inevitably erupt into acts of violence. Through the anger of his…

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While Mark Mathabane’s father remains committed to his tribal beliefs and traditions, Mathabane’s mother begins to explore Christianity, going to evangelism meetings, church groups, and baptizing her children against her husband’s will. In the same way that Mathabane is skeptical of his father’s tribal beliefs, he is equally skeptical of Christianity’s place in South Africa. As he grows up and interacts with his mother’s new religion, Mathabane suggests that Christianity in South Africa occupies…

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Suffering, Survival, and Trauma

Between the ages of five and 10, Mark Mathabane experiences severe suffering and trauma as a result of his family’s poverty and the environment that they live in, all of which ultimately stem from apartheid. Before he can become an accomplished student or rising athlete, Mathabane’s first struggle is merely to survive—to endure his family’s suffering with his will to live intact. Mathabane’s early childhood demonstrates the trauma suffered by people in abject poverty…

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