by Mark Mathabane
Kaffir Boy Identity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
My father's response was more or less typical of that of other men in the yard. So when my mother and other women in the yard sought ways of escaping from the police – at times hiding in ditches, at times in outhouses, at times in trees, at times on rooftops, at times in secret underground hollows and at times waking in the middle of the night and leaving home to drift along some faraway street until the police were gone – he and other men would frown, and, with affectations of bravery, continue with business as usual. For a long time I did not understand why my father and other men acted this way, until one day I heard talk among the womenfolk that the real reason why their husbands refused to run away was that they considered it cowardly and unmanly to runaway from other men (4.11).
The black men of Alexandra need to save face. Though they don't want to get arrested, they don't want to appear cowardly in front of the women. Even if prison and hard labor is brutal and ugly, they choose to endure it, rather than lose face.
Participating in my father's rituals sometimes led to the most appalling scenes, which invariably made me the laughing stock of my friends, who thought that my father, in his ritual garb, was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen since natives in Tarzan movies. Whenever they laughed at me I would feel embarrassed and would cry. I began seeking ways of distancing myself from my father's rituals. I found one: I decided I would no longer, in the presence of my friends, speak Venda, my father's tribal language. I began speaking Zulu, Sotho and Tsonga, the languages of my friends. It worked. I was no longer an object of mockery. My masquerade continued until my father got wind of it.
"My boy," he began. "Who is ruler of this house?"
"You are, Papa," I said with a trembling voice.
"Whose son are you?"
"Yours and Mama's."
"That's better. Now tell me, which language do I speak?"
"Which does your mama speak?"
"Which should you speak?"
"Then why do I hear you're speaking other tongues; are you a prophet?" (5.3e-46)
Papa tries to instill in Mark an identity similar to his, as a Venda man. The language he speaks is a critical part of his identity. Mark discovers at an early age just how political language can be. He realizes he wants acceptance, not just from his father, but from his peers. As a result, Mark starts speaking the language of his peers to distance himself from his father's culture and be accepted in theirs.
I was a fool all right, but I was a fool of my own free will. I was not prepared to prostitute myself for food or money. I would rather have died than do that….
Throughout all the years that I lived in South Africa, people were to call me a fool for refusing to live life the way they did and by doing the things they did. Little did they realize that in our world, the black world, one could only survive if one played the fool, and bided his time. (10.125-126)
Mark charts his own path. He refuses to sell his body, mind, or soul. He'd rather be himself and find freedom than have a full stomach.