Study Guide

Kaffir Boy Chapter 29

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Chapter 29

  • Granny loses one of her gardening jobs but quickly finds another in a "posh whites-only suburb" of Johannesburg (29.1). She starts bringing back comic books for Marc to read—Batman and Robin, Richie Rich, etc.
  • Mark reads them over and over, discovering a real love for reading. With comic books, he suddenly becomes the most popular kid in the neighborhood.
  • \He starts a small business, charging one penny to lend out each book.
  • Mark wonders why Granny's employers would give her comic books. Granny says she had told her employer how well Mark was doing in school, and she had given Granny the books because of it. Granny tells Mark that not all white people are mean.
  • When Mark turns eleven, Granny starts bringing home books. Because of the comic books, Mark's English had improved, so he was able to tackle the books like Pinocchio.
  • Mark starts reading everything, realizing that the world of Alexandra is small.
  • He re-tells the stories to everybody who would listen.
  • The teacher hears about it and calls Mark up to tell a story in front of the class. Mark tells the story of Hansel and Gretel while the teacher gets quiet.
  • When Mark is done, the teacher wants to know where he learned those stories. Mark tells him he read it in books. The teacher wants to know how he gets books since he never has money for his textbooks. White people give them to my grandmother, he says.
  • The teacher begins to mock him. He says that there are no white people in the world who would give a black woman books.
  • Mark says that nice white people would.
  • Everybody laughs as the teacher says there are no nice white people.
  • The teacher wonders what work Granny does that white people would give books to her.
  • Mark is ashamed to admit that his grandmother does gardening, but finally he admits it.
  • When children in the classroom snicker that his grandmother does gardening, the teacher goes over to them and says it is honest work, nothing to snicker about.
  • In fact, he says, that's how he was able to go to school, because his grandmother worked in a garden for rich white people.
  • From that day forward, Mark was never ashamed to admit his heritage or what his family did to make a living.
  • There were about a dozen illegal bars, known as shebeens, in Mark's neighborhood.
  • Many people bootlegged illegal alcohol because the profits were so high.
  • Papa tells Mama they should start a little beer-making business, since they're both working and have a little extra cash.
  • Mama objects, so Papa suggests joining a stockvel – a club where one member would host a party each weekend and everybody else would pitch in money to "support" it. The hosts made money, since both members and nonmembers came.
  • Mama says her money isn't going to anything but the children's school fees, and Papa gets mad.
  • The two begin to fight. Papa insists Mama has to do what he says because he bought her and owns her.
  • Meanwhile, Mama insists that she just wants what's best for the family and she won't support his money-making schemes until he changes his ways.
  • Papa says that she's giving him grounds for divorce. Then he adds that joining a stockvel is the only way out of their situation.
  • Mama replies that educating their children is the only way out.
  • Papa finally tries a different approach and bargains with Mama.
  • If she'll help him out, he'll stop gambling and, once they have their own business going, he'll stop going to shebeens.
  • Mark has an opinion, though he can't express it. But he's seen the wealth created by stockvels in the homes of students he knows.
  • But Mama refuses to bargain. She says he should quit gambling and drinking anyway, that that is part of his duties as a father and husband. Her duties as a mother include paying for the children's school fees, which she will continue to do through her job.
  • Papa accuses Mama of bewitching him, otherwise he surely would kill her because of her lack of respect.
  • Mama laughs and says she hasn't indulged in witchcraft. Besides, she says, once their children are successful because of the education, he'll take all the credit for it.
  • Mark reflects on the truth of that. Already, Papa was taking credit for how well Mark does in school.
  • But Papa drives a mean bargain, and he continues. He gives Mama his paycheck for the week, and says that if she supports him in the liquor business, he'll give some of his paycheck towards the children's schooling.
  • Mama is surprised but says nothing. Mark begs her to say yes and Papa says that Mark is someone with good sense.
  • Though the beer-selling business didn't change everything, Papa did stop gambling and brought his full paycheck home every week.
  • Mama could pay rent, school fees, and take the children to the clinic when they were sick. They had more food, even some luxury items like peanut butter, and Mama opened a savings account.
  • Mark became the accountant.
  • Because the customers couldn't read, Mark was tempted to cheat, but he didn't, and he was rewarded with good tips. Some of them started hiring him to write letters to family members back home. He used the money for school.
  • One time, reading one of the letters, Mark was overcome with sadness and started crying. Phineas, the man whose letter he was reading, told him not to worry. Perhaps one of his children was going to die, like the letter said, but one of these days, he would make enough money to help all his children. Perhaps he'd even be able to bribe one of the Peri-Urban policemen to let his family join him.
  • Phineas was like thousands of black migrant workers, who lived single lives while their wives and children lived in the reserves back home. They were full of anger and hate, directed mainly at whites.
  • Mark reflects that the anger and pain they experienced was a kind of death, deeper and worse than physical death.

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