Study Guide

Kaffir Boy Chapter 20

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Chapter 20

  • A few weeks after Piet gets out of jail, Mama takes Mark back on the trip she'd intended to take the day Piet was arrested. They head to the superintendent's office on First Avenue, where they apply for papers for Mark.
  • Mark gets cold while they wait in line, and approaches some men who are sitting around a fire. They tell him to scram.
  • When Mama hears that, she takes Mark by the hand and they go together to the men, where Mama asks if they'll allow her child to stand by the fire and warm himself.
  • The men apologize, saying they thought he was a street kid.
  • Mark admits he probably didn't look much different from the kids that lived on the street, with his ragged clothes, the sores and bruises on his body, and the lice in his hair.
  • As the men discuss the apartheid system, a convoy of trucks full of black men drove by.
  • Mark asks who the men in the trucks in the trucks are, and they tell him that those people aren't men, they're leeches from the tribal reserves coming to work in the mines.
  • As they continue to discuss it, it becomes clear that these men blame their problems – their inability to find work, or keep their passes in order, or feed their families – on the presence of these men fresh from the reserves.
  • They wait in line for seven hours and they still haven't seen the "baas" – the boss.
  • They're ushered into an empty room. A policeman tells them "the baas" will see them shortly.
  • They wait two hours. Finally, the policeman comes back and says that "the baas" has gone home for the day and they'll have to come back in the morning.
  • Mama tries to plead, but the policeman tells her she's wasting her time. They'll have to come back in the morning.
  • A month later, they head back again, and were waiting by 5am .Many of the same men and women that were waiting with them last time are back. This time, the men around the fire are absent. The truckloads of men come past again but in the other direction. The men are singing.
  • Mama explains that they're happy because it's Friday, which means payday.
  • Mark realizes that his father is never happy, not even on payday. He has become such a morose, sullen man, he doesn't even say goodnight to the children at bedtime.
  • Finally, Mama and Mark are ushered back into that small room by the same policeman from before.
  • Mark is terrified at the sight of the white man sitting behind the desk, a gun slung around his waist. It's the man that led a raid a few days earlier. Mark starts screaming.
  • Mama yells at him, asking what's the matter with him. Mama has to drag him outside and Mark explains that this is the man who led the raids.
  • Mama explains that Mark can't talk about that here. Mark will be shot you dead if he makes comments like that here.
  • They re-enter and the man tells her she has a "wild pickanniny" (20.71). Mama agrees, smiling, and the white man jokes that she should tell him that white folks don't bite.
  • They are there to get papers so Mark can go to school. The white man wants to know if Mark was born in Alexandra, but he doesn't believe Mama when she assures him that Mark was. He directs the black policeman to get Mama's file.
  • The man looks through her file and tells her that there is no record that Mark was born in Alexandra. Why don't they have his name in the files? Does she have papers from the health clinic to prove he was born here?
  • He wasn't born at the clinic, Mama admits.
  • The white man asks if he's bastard then. Does he have a father?
  • Mama cries as she says he was delivered at home.
  • It doesn't matter, the man says. After you delivered him, you should have gone to the clinic to register him.
  • But, Mama says, I went to the clinic and they refused to give me papers until I brought papers from here first.
  • But, the man says, we need the clinic papers first.
  • But, Mama insists, I went to the clinic first, and they sent me here.
  • The white man tells the black policeman to explain to Mama that she needs proof from the clinic before he can help her.
  • Mama says she's been to the clinic four times. They keep telling her they can't issue a certificate because Mark wasn't born there.
  • Mama asks for a note from the white baas, to show them at the clinic. They give her a note and says it explains exactly what they had explained to her.
  • They leave the office and go to the health clinic on the other end of Alexandra.
  • Mama decides to go on Monday, since it's getting dark, and darkness is when the gangsters come out.
  • Monday morning, they arrive at the clinic at 5am, but should have come earlier. Even though the clinic didn't open until 9:30, it was already packed with people.
  • They waited in one line, but it turned out to be the wrong line. They didn't find out, however, until they had waited for an hour or two.
  • The man at the clinic explained that the note didn't say what Mama had asked the man to say, only that she had a problem.
  • The note didn't explain what the problem was, or how to solve it. And of course, the black man attending Mama told her that she could not get a birth certificate until she brought the papers from the superintendent's office. He didn't believe her when she explained she had already been there. They removed Mama from the line.
  • They waited at the office for two hours. Finally, a white nun came by, and Mama stopped her.
  • Mama begged her to help. The white woman stopped and listened to Mama as she explained the story. The white woman was aghast, and finally stormed into the office. They overheard her in the office and finally the black man who had ordered Mama to be removed earlier gives her a piece of paper. They have the birth certificate.
  • Mama tells Mark to remember this as a lesson: not all white people are bad.
  • Mark grumbled, not realizing how important that piece of paper was to his future. Without a birth certificate, he would not have been allowed to enroll in school.

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