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Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy


by Mark Mathabane

Kaffir Boy Chapter 32 Summary

  • Mark continued to do above-average in school, and teachers began to tell him he would be something someday: a teacher, maybe, or a doctor.
  • Mark has reached the age where many students drop out for lack of money. He begins to persevere under the idea that as long as he could, he would work hard.
  • Teachers were always surprised that Mark wrote upside down. It was what made sense to his brain, the way it coordinated with his hand.
  • After accompanying Granny several times to the Smith's house, Mark began to feel more comfortable in the white world. Though the Smiths were "paternalistic" (32.5), they were kind, and it went a long way to transforming Mark's dread into acceptance of whites.
  • But one Saturday, Granny took Mark to her other gardening job. Mark assumed this might mean more books, so he helped her, excited by the possibilities.
  • Mark waited for the bus while Granny went to get the correct change. She told him to ask the bus driver to wait if it came while she was still getting change.
  • Mark waited and when the bus came, he dashed inside, only to find that he was on a "whites-only" bus. The bus driver yells at the "bloody Kaffir" to get off the bus, while Mark started begging to be forgiven, thinking he was going to get smashed in the face.
  • Granny runs up and starts telling the driver that it's her fault, he's only a "pickaninny."
  • The driver says he could have them both arrested for this.
  • Granny says she understands but the child didn't know better.
  • This, the driver finds impossible to believe. How could he not know? "Don't you teach Kaffir children anything about the laws?" (32.21).
  • Granny explains that the child is "deranged" and can't learn. Using her skirt, she begins to wipe the bus steps where Mark had stepped.
  • After more racial epithets, the driver drives off.
  • Granny is mad and lets Mark have it. When Mark says he'd never seen whites riding a bus before, so he assumed it was theirs, she thinks he's lying.
  • Mark still doesn't understand how it could be an arrestable offense – he only reached the bus steps, he didn't even sit on the seat. Granny screams at him that he can't do the usual things he does in Alexandra, in the white world.
  • Finally, Granny calms down and apologizes for screaming at him. But she explains that his small offense isn't small in the white world and could have landed them both in jail.
  • She explains apartheid – that white people want blacks and whites to be kept apart, so black and white live in separate worlds. Blacks are the servants, whites the masters.
  • Granny says that blacks fought to keep freedoms but failed. Maybe another generation will succeed, but for now, this is how things are.
  • She points across the street at the phone boxes. One phone is for blacks, one for whites.
  • Mark looks at the identical phone booths and asks which one is which. Granny says that there is a sign on each door, and they tell you which phone is for which race.
  • That's when it hits Mark that Granny is illiterate. How did she manage to get by in this white world, so dominated by signs?
  • After that, Mark began to notice the signs everywhere – literal signs as well as the things whites would say to blacks – to keep that world intact.
  • Mark starts selling newspapers on the weekends. Using that income, he could go on school trips, like the trip to the Johannesburg zoo. The zoo was whites-only, and blacks had to apply for special permits to be allowed access.
  • The white zoo gatekeeper told them they'd pretty much have the place to themselves because whites didn't often come on Tuesdays.
  • The school kids entered through the "blacks" door, while a few whites straggled through the "whites" door. One of the kids asked why they had separate doors if they were in the same space once they were inside, and a teacher replied, "Only God knows" (32.48).
  • Mark and some other schoolmates run into some white schoolchildren in front of the baboons.
  • The white kids insult them and some of Mark's schoolmates want to run away, but Phineas, the eighteen-year-old leader of the group, says they should stay. Mark agrees, saying they have as much right to see the baboons as anybody.
  • The group divides up: some go with Mark, some with Phineas, and the rest with those who want to leave.
  • Phineas leads his group to the white boys near the baboon cage.
  • The white boys insult them as they come.
  • One of boys called Mark a "Bloody Kaffir" and Mark responds in Tsonga, "Kaffir is your mother" (32.63).
  • Because the white boys couldn't speak Tsonga, they didn't know what to do, yet Mark and the others could understand the white boys' Afrikaans perfectly.
  • Mark and his group begin to insult the white boys in Tsonga, though they pretend to be discussing the baboons. The white boys just curse at them until their teacher comes to take them away.
  • It feels like a victory.

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