Friday, October 5, 2012

Banned Books Week: Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa - Mark Mathabane

Summary:  Mark Mathabane was weaned on devastating poverty and schooled in the cruel streets of South Africa's most desperate ghetto, where bloody gang wars and midnight police raids were his rites of passage. Like every other child born in the hopelessness of apartheid, he learned to measure his life in days, not years. Yet Mark Mathabane, armed only with the courage of his family and a hard-won education, raised himself up from the squalor and humiliation to win a scholarship to an American university.

This extraordinary memoir of life under apartheid is a triumph of the human spirit over hatred and unspeakable degradation. For Mark Mathabane did what no physically and psychologically battered "Kaffir" from the rat-infested alleys of Alexandra was supposed to do -- he escaped to tell about it.  (Summary from - Image from

My Review:  I told my husband I’d chosen this book to review for Banned Books Week, and one glance at the cover elicited a “Whoa!! I can tell why that book’s been banned!” from him.  He served a two-year mission in South Africa, and “Kaffir” (the Arabic word for “infidel”) has the same connotation as the N-word here. 

Kaffir Boy was written during Apartheid’s final years, and I found myself having to remind myself of that.  All told, however, it is a difficult read.  The conditions forced upon the Africans were atrocious, and the measures that Mathabane’s family and acquaintances had to resort to were unspeakable.  It didn’t take long before I saw why this book has been banned, the standard practices and ways of coping with Apartheid were so atrocious, I’m not sure I’d want my (younger) kids reading about it.  It was fascinating, however, to read of Mathabane’s “escape” from the Bantu-approved way of life through tennis and education, to relive the townships’ reactions to the death of Steven Bilko, the education riots, and to see Apartheid through Mathabane’s eyes. 

Sum it Up:  An invaluable history of Apartheid, told by one who survived the worst of it.

My Rating:  Four stars for education value.  However, I wouldn’t pick it up again.

For the Sensitive Reader: Graphic descriptions of beatings, murder, and illnesses. Mathabane also recounts a near escape of child prostitution.  Keep in mind that this novel was written to shock the Western World into realizing how atrocious Apartheid really was.

1 comment:

rebecca h jamison said...

Back when I taught English 115 at BYU, Kaffir Boy was the book I chose to teach. (We could choose from among 4 or 5.) I thought the book had a hopeful message even though the beginning is really sad. I'm glad I read it.


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