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Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy


by Mark Mathabane

Kaffir Boy Theme of Tradition and Customs

Mark's dad provides an important ideological contrast to Mark. Papa argues that all blacks in South Africa will be returned to the reserves, to live a traditional life. It is therefore necessary that Mark to learn about Venda customs and traditions. Papa thinks Mark's education is useless, given the rules and regulations that prevent most blacks from achieving anything. In contrast, Mark sees "tribalism" as the very thing that is holding people back, and believes that the only way to be successful is to learn how to relate to whites in the world they occupy. Kaffir Boy continuously contrasts education with tradition, logic with superstition, and the need to live a modern with the practice or living a traditional life.

Questions About Tradition and Customs

  1. What are the traditions and customs that dominate Mark's parents' lives?
  2. What is Mark's attitude towards tradition and tribalism? His parents' attitudes?
  3. Why are tribalism and tradition important to apartheid? How does the apartheid state use it to support and perpetuate the system?
  4. Do you agree with Mark that people need to leave tradition behind in order to enter a fully modern life? Or is there a place for both tradition and modernity?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Even though Mark's father thinks he can escape apartheid through tribal life, he is actually playing along with apartheid's theories about segregation by participating in Venda traditions and customs.

Although Mark chooses to reject tribal ways of life, traditional ways of life don't have to be incompatible with participation in industrialized society.

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