And in that shack I was born, a few months before sixty-nine unarmed black protesters were massacred – many shot in the back as they fled for safety – by South African policemen during a peaceful demonstration against the pass laws in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960. Pass laws regulate the movement of blacks in so-called white South Africa. And it was the pass laws that, in those not so long ago days of my childhood and youth, first awakened me to the realities of life as a Kaffir boy in South Africa. (1.11)
That evening the neighborhood was gripped by rumors that the Peri-Urban police were going to launch another raid soon, to "clean up" the neighbourhood, so to speak, because the one that morning had been – by police standards – unsuccessful. The back-to-back raids, the rumors went, marked the beginning of the annual "Operation Clean-up Month," a month during which hundreds of black policemen, led by white officers, combed the entire Alexandra ghetto – street by street and yard by yard – searching for people whose passbooks were not in order, gangsters, prostitutes, black families living illegally in the township, shebeen owners and those persons deemed "undesirables" under the Influx Control Law. I did not understand what many of these names meant, though I was told that we and most of our neighbours were counted under them. (3.1)
"Hurry up, old man!" the interrogator said, as my father fidgeted with his overalls, "we haven't got all day. Do you have it or don't you?" he said, trying to wring a bribe out of my father.
"Nkosi, I beg you," my father whimpered, dropping his bony shoulders and letting the overalls dangle limply at his side. "I have no money," he sighed.
"Nothing," the policeman cried, astonished; the black policemen were used to getting bribes.
"Nothing, nkosi," my father said, slowly running his right hand through his kinky hair. "Not a cent. I have no job. I just applied for a permit to look for a job yesterday."
"Well," frowned the policeman, closing the bulky book in my father's face, "I gave you your chance. You refused it. Now hurry up and put on your clothes and come with us." (3.83-87)