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 childhood and community and the violent eruption of the Soweto Uprising, Mathabane demonstrates how the strain of living under oppression causes anger and hatred to fester until they erupt into violence that can cause harm in any direction.
Mathabane and other black people feel constant anger at the injustice and strain of surviving under apartheid, demonstrating how such festering anger becomes a permanent fixture for oppressed people. At five years old, as Mathabane watches police officers demean his father in the middle of the night and prod his naked body with their weapons, he feels “hate and anger rage with a furious intensity” inside himself, “branded into my five-year-old mind, branded to remain until I die.” The rise of such anger at such a young age suggests that anger at injustice and dehumanization becomes a permanent fixture in an oppressed person’s world, even shaping their childhood. Mathabane describes all black South Africans, denied basic rights and welfare in their own country, as “an angry and embittered lot.” This anger runs so deep that it not only targets white people, but also any black person who cooperates with the white government. An old man bitterly tells Mathabane, “If all these years that vermin [black men who work for white people] hadn’t been licking the white man’s ass, boy […] we would have long had political rights in this country.” Beyond the individual, this suggests that as a community, severe oppression can even make the oppressed hate the people alongside them, who still share their oppression.
Mathabane’s anger festers into hatred and a desire for violence, suggesting that long years of oppression can give even a non-violent person a hateful nature. At one point, Mathabane states that he “could not understand the cruelty and satanic impulses that drove people to kill others,” suggesting that he is not violent at heart. However, when he is a young teenager Mathabane’s anger grows until he “yearned for the day when armies of black peasants would invade the white world, and butcher, guillotine, hang, machine-gun, bury alive and drown in hot lead every bad white man alive.” Such fantasies about racially motivated violence suggest that Mathabane’s constant oppression and long-held anger fester into powerful hatred, even though he once opposed violence.
As Mathabane and the rest of the black community’s anger deepens into outright hatred, violence erupts both within their community and outside of it, suggesting that oppressed people will inevitably lash out in violence, either toward their oppressors or toward each other—or both. The greatest eruption of violence in Mathabane’s life occurs when he is a teenage student. Mathabane reflects that, at the time, violence seems inevitable: “All the hate, bitterness, frustration and anger […] crystallized into a powder keg in the minds of black students, waiting for a single igniting spark.” When white police officers open fire on a black student protest movement, killing numerous children, weeks of violent protests, riots, and looting ensue in an event that’s now known as the Soweto Uprising. Although Mathabane once detested the thought of violence, he finds himself swept into not only the protests but also the violent riots and looting. He reflects, “Each day I found myself in the company of bloodthirsty mobs. I had lost control of myself and seemed possessed by a sinister force.” In every face of the people participating in the violence, Mathabane sees his own “poverty of hate and anger,” suggesting that this explosion of violence is an expression of many years of hardship, oppression, and pain, even for people who are not predisposed to violent action. The hatred is aimed primarily at white people, but since white families are protected by walls and military, many of the mobs take to looting and killing Indian, Chinese, and mixed-race people instead—who live alongside the black community—since they receive marginally better treatment by the apartheid government. As Mathabane helps smash and rob a Chinese man’s shop, he reflects, “For an instant I became aware of the senselessness of what we were doing. But those misgivings gave way to euphoria as I saw black peasants making off with plundered goods.” Mathabane later describes this attack of non-white people as an attack on “symbols of oppression and collaborators with the system [which] are convenient and necessary targets for our anger.” In other words, when the oppressed cannot act out their hatred directly toward their oppressors, that violence turns sideways toward the people and communities around them.
Mathabane never explicitly condemns the violence of the Soweto Uprising, depicting it as an inevitable outcome of decades of oppression and injustice. However, in the last page of his autobiography, he fears for his younger brother, George: “How would he deal with the fear, the frustration, the hate, the anger that were the lot of every black child? Would he stay out of trouble long enough to become a man, to realize his dreams, whatever they might be?” Mathabane’s fears for his brother ultimately suggest that such hatred, which inevitably leads to violence, threatens the future of any who are drawn into it.
Anger, Hatred, and Violence ThemeTracker
Anger, Hatred, and Violence Quotes in Kaffir Boy
In South Africa there’s a saying that to be black is to be at the end of the line when anything of significance is to be had. So these people were considered and treated as the dregs of society, aliens in the land of their birth. Such labelling and treatment made them an angry and embittered lot.
For the first time in my life I felt hate and anger rage with furious intensity inside me. What I felt was no ordinary hate or anger; it was something much deeper, much darker, frightening, something even I couldn’t understand. As I stood there watching, I could feel that hate and anger being branded into my five-year-old brain, branded to remain until I die.
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.
My conception of the world, of life, was wholly in racial terms; and that conception was not mine alone. It was echoed by all black people I had come across. There were two worlds as far as we were concerned, separated in absolutely every sense. But somehow […] they had everything to do with each other; […] one could not be without the other, and their dependency was that of master and slave.
[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.
And oh, how I yearned for the day when armies of black peasants would invade the white world and butcher, guillotine, hang, machine-gun, bury alive and drown in hot lead every bad white man alive.
To me, and many blacks, whites were a race peculiarly obsessed with creating contradictions that they, and they alone, could understand—if indeed they really could understand them in the strict sense of the word.
The thick veil of tribalism which so covered [my father’s] eyes and mind and heart was of absolutely no use to me, for I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that black life would never revert to the past, that the clock would never turn back to a time centuries ago when black people had lived in peace and contentment before the white man.
The government generally treated Coloureds slightly better by giving them better jobs, better housing and better education than blacks. As a result most of the Coloureds were ashamed of their black blood, and often their prejudice against blacks was fiercer than the white man’s. But a new generation of young Coloureds, which saw itself as more black than white, was emerging, and it embraced the entire range of black aspirations.
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.
While student leaders argued about what to do to diffuse the situation, the police suddenly opened fire. Momentarily the crowd stood dazed, thinking that the bullets were plastic and had been fired into the air. But when several small children began dropping down like swatted flies, their white uniforms soaked in red blood, pandemonium broke out.
For an instant I became aware of the senselessness of what we were doing. But those misgivings gave way to euphoria as I saw black peasants making off with plundered goods. I joined in.
Out of touch with sane whites, I began to hate all whites. Why weren’t liberal whites doing something to stop the slaughter of innocent black children? Why weren’t they demanding investigations into the brutal and indiscriminate use of force by police? […] The loud silence of the white electorate turned many black moderates into radicals and radicals into revolutionaries.
“You know […] this whole thing reminds me of what Hitler did to my country. His madness left us Germans with a feeling of guilt and shame that can never go away. The very same forces of racial superiority of that idiot and madman I see at work right here. There could yet be another Holocaust in the world.”
How would he deal with the fear, the frustration, the hate, the anger that were the lot of every black child? Would he stay out of trouble long enough to become a man, to realize his dreams, whatever they might be?