Study Guide

Kaffir Boy Violence

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The pounding and kicking at the door awakened y sister, and she started screaming from under the table. After what seemed like an eternity I unlatched the door. As it swung wide open, with tremendous force, two tall black policemen in stiff brown uniforms rushed in and immediately blinded me with the glare from their flashlights. Before I knew what was happening one of them had kicked me savagely on the side, sending me crashing into a crate in the far corner. I hit the crate with such force that I nearly passed out. With stars in my eyes I grabbed the edges of the crate and tried to rise, but I couldn't; my knees had turned to Jell-O, my eyes were cloudy and my head pounded as if it were being split with an axe. AS I tried to gather my sense, another kick sent me back to the floor, flat on my face. As I went down, my jaw struck the blunt side of the blade of an axe jutting form the side of the crate. My head burned with pain. Blood began oozing form my nostrils and lips. Several of my teeth were loose. I started screaming, forgetting all about my fathers' rule, begging for forgiveness form my assailant for whatever wrong I had done. (3.25)

The Peri-Urban police use violence even on black children because under apartheid, blacks of all ages are seen as inhuman. Such a conclusion was used to justify all kinds of repugnant behavior.

"Shut your mouth!" she screamed. "Don't you have enough brains in that big head of yours to realize that you can't talk like that here! Not in front of him! You know what he'll do when he hears you talk like that about him? He'll shoot you dead, that's what he'll do! Now calm down and keep your mouth shut, when we get in there! He won't hurt you so long as I'm with you. Keep your mouth shut, you hear? – or you're dead." (20.69)

When Mark sees the white man who leads the nightly raids in Alexandra, he's terrified. His mother tries to shut him up by using terror and violence to control him. Violence is such a normal part of their world that it seems normal to use it to control a child.

My parents, thinking I was bewitched, took me to a witch doctor, who made me drink a strange brew and bled me with a razor blade, all to no avail: I continued withdrawing into myself. What made this death different from the many others I had seen previously I do not really know.

One thing I do know was that I could not understand the morbid cruelty and satanic impulses that drove people to kill others. For what? I asked myself. What is to be gained from killing a fellow-sufferer? (27.38-39)

Witnessing such an inhumane act as a vicious murder causes Mark such anguish that he isolates himself from the rest of humanity.

I kept silent, sensing that Jarvas was provoking me into saying something that might give him an excuse to stab me. I bore the stream of filth he and his cohorts spewed at me, for I knew that it was better to act a coward and live than to act a hero and end up six feet under.

"What have you to say, wimp?" Jarvas sneered. "Will you fight, or will you hide behind your mama's apron like a little girl?"

"I'll fight in the next fight," I said. (31.18-20)

The gang is not going to let Mark leave without a fight. Although Mark recognizes the necessity of staying away from violence, he is afraid and agrees to fight.

On the way home, voices kept ringing in my head. Why do you fight when you don't want to? It could easily have been you with the gouged eye. Are you willing to pay such a price for conformity? Leave the gang, leave it now, while you still have both eyes, and your life; leave it now and be called a wimp for the rest of your life, if need be; but do not needlessly, recklessly and foolishly jeopardize your future.

I never again fought for any gang. (31.25-26)

Mark draws a line in the sand, realizing he doesn't want to lead a life that will get him killed. He'll take his books and tennis and run for his life.

My mother, when she heard the full story behind my decision, heaved a deep sigh of relief and said, 'You had two paths to choose from, just like every black boy in Alexandra: to become a tsotsi, or not to become a tsotsi. You chose the difficult way out. From now on, the going will be rough, for your tsotsi friends will try everything to make you change your mind. I hope you will remain firm in your decision. If you do, chances are you'll live to be old enough not to regret it."

My father in a typical remark said, "Watch out they don't kill you." He paused, then added, "Maybe it's about time I sent you to a school back in the homelands, where they'll make a warrior out of you." (31.29-30)

Mama is relieved that Mark has chosen not to be violent. Ironically, his father suggests his way out of one kind of violence is learning another kind – the life of a Venda warrior.

"Okay, now, boy," growled one of the men. "Put that knife down and come quietly. You'll only be gone three months."

"Three months," exclaimed my mother. "He can't afford to be gone that long! Exams are coming up soon."

"This is the most important exam of his life, musadi," said one of the men. "He's to be tested for his manhood."

"Maybe he can go next year."

"I'm not going anywhere, ever," I said. "If I need to be circumcised I'll go to the clinic. I'll kill anybody that dares lays a hand on me." (37.14-18)

Mark knows that violence is the only thing that will make him safe, and the only thing that these men will listen to. He therefore uses violence to protect himself from his father's decision to kidnap him and make him attend tribal school in the bus.

We in South Africa had never been called slaves, though, all along, day in and day out, we had been treated worse than slaves. None of our ancestors, as far as I could tell from our distorted history, had ever been shackled and considered chattel, bred and traded like cattle, as the ancestors of the American black had been.

Yet somehow, in a mysterious, diabolical way, our growth as a people, our aspirations as individuals, our capacity to dream and to create, our hopes for the future as a nation united, had been ruthlessly stunted by whites who possessed our lives from birth to death. (38.45-46)

Though blacks in South Africa were never slaves, the psychological violence committed against them under the system of apartheid was just as bad.

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