Kaffir Boy, the autobiography of Mark Mathabane, is the haunting story of Mathabane’s life in South Africa under apartheid. In a world where his very existence is frowned upon, and his every movement is monitored by cruel regulations, Mathabane accomplishes feats deemed impossible by the powerful white minority of South Africa. You see, although Mathabane was talented, smart, and athletic, he was black, which, according to the laws of his country, should have sentenced him to a life of poverty and servitude in the ghettos of Johannesburg. However, in a twist of fate, Mathabane enrolls in school and discovers tennis, the sport which changed his life. The rest, up until the publication of his book, is a rollercoaster ride of revolution and rebellion that you will not want to put down for an instant.
The book begins with Mathabane’s childhood, which as you would probably assume, allowed very little room for play or fun. The opening of the book details a police raid in which multitudes of his neighbors were arrested for petty crimes, and sent to work in the countryside for unspecified amounts of time. Later, his family battles starvation. Just when you begin to wonder if times will ever look up for the Mathabanes, they gather enough food to scrape by for another day. Event after event occurs, and you begin to wonder how Mathabane, called “Johannes” in the book, even survived long enough to write the book that you hold in your hands. However, hope comes to the family in the form of education, against all odds.
As a disclaimer, I will say that Kaffir Boy is not exactly a feel-good story. However, it is wonderfully written, triumphant, and eye opening. The book is a look into a world that we tend to glance over. You probably know what apartheid was, but this book is a look into the life of a person oppressed by it. It is also exciting, and shocking in many ways. It is a must read, and I definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.