Mark's family, like the black families surrounding them, suffers constantly. They routinely experience extreme hunger, malnutrition, and disease. But it isn't just the hunger and starvation that afflict them. Life under apartheid is designed to make people suffer in other ways: they are dominated by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and inferiority. We see how suffering affects individuals when Mark decides to leave the gangster life behind and focus on school. His mother tells him that all young black men growing up in the ghettoes have to make the important choice to be a tsotsi (a gangster) or not to be a tsotsi. Mark has chosen a non-violent path, but we learn that his choice is rare. Other young people chose to respond to their suffering by boycotting the schools, or joining the resistance. Mark's father responds to his suffering by oppressing his family. On the one hand, constant suffering was a strategy on the part of apartheid officials to keep Africans docile and needy, but it ultimately backfired.
Although suffering holds Mark back from enjoying unmitigated success, it is also the impetus that spurs him forward and makes him determined to create a new life for himself.