Study Guide

Kaffir Boy Chapter 38

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Chapter 38

  • Arthur Ashe is finally let into South Africa in 1973.
  • He had never been allowed before because, as a black man, he had made comments against the apartheid government, including saying that he would like to drop the H-bomb on Johannesburg.
  • Mark and a fellow tennis buddy, David, discuss how Arthur Ashe would have been shipped off to Robben Island if he had made the statement in South Africa.
  • Even as Mark and his friend talk, they are nervous: criticizing the government was treason. But some of David's relatives were in the ANC (the African National Congress) so he explained its history to Mark.
  • The day Arthur Ashe arrived, Mark was headed to the Tennis Ranch. He tells Wilfred he'd like to meet Ashe and Wilfred says he has tickets for them to go see him. Mark admits that he wants to him face-to-face.
  • Wilfred can't arrange that kind of a meeting, despite his extensive contacts.
  • Arthur Ashe arrives during a history-making week.
  • A black American boxer, Bob Foster, was going to fight a white South African boxer.
  • Mark refused to go. He didn't like Bob Foster, who made statements that he was there to fight and not for political reasons, and that he liked South Africa. As a result, he distanced himself from the masses of black South Africans, and looked like a traitor.
  • Mark ignored Bob Foster. Ashe was the man to look up to.
  • Nobody cared if athletes like Ashe stayed in luxurious hotels when they came to South Africa, but they did care whether they understood the viciousness of the apartheid system, and Ashe seemed to.
  • Mark attends the first day of the match alone. Though the stadium was supposed to be integrated, blacks self-segregated.
  • Mark tried to sit with a group of whites but it was so tense so he sat in the black section.
  • Arthur Ashe won the match.
  • On the day home, Mark is disappointed. The lack of segregation at the stadium contrasted sharply with the segregation practiced outside of it.
  • In fact, Arthur Ashe no longer seemed black. It seemed impossible that a black person could beat a white man, even be cheered by white people.
  • He had read about successful, accomplished blacks in America, but wondered if it was possible in South Africa. Was it possible for a person like Mark Mathabane to ever become an Arthur Ashe?
  • Mark realizes suddenly that it might be possible, but not if he stays in South Africa. He would need to go to America.
  • Mark skips school to watch the rest of the matches, and to study Arthur Ashe. He even asks his mother to pray at church that Ashe would win the tournament.
  • It was critical that Ashe win. If he lost, it would confirm white South Africans' suspicions that a black man could never be the equal of a white man.
  • One day, Mark tried to get up close during a press conference. He was impressed with how confident Ashe seems, though surrounded by whites.
  • Arthur Ashe holds a tennis camp in Soweto, but Mark isn't invited.
  • Mark goes anyway, just to see Ashe, hoping he would be able to ask him questions about America. Wilfred gives him the train fare. This is the kind of thing Wilfred did from time to time as Mark's "unofficial tennis sponsor" (38.60). It was people like Wilfred that allowed Mark not to see all whites as the enemy.
  • The train ride is packed, and two people are killed by electrocution because they ride on the top of the train.
  • When Mark arrives in Soweto, he sees a man murdered by tsotsis. When he finally reaches the courts, it's jam-packed with people.
  • Mark learns that Ashe has been given a nickname, Sipho, which means he's a gift. Mark realizes it's true. Ashe had figured out how to overcome his suffering, and his fear of whites. Mark needed to do that too.
  • He is unable to get close to Arthur Ashe throughout the day.
  • Some protestors begin to tell Arthur Ashe to go home. They love him but claim that his presence "legitimizes the system" (38.81).
  • Ashe speaks through a megaphone, but Mark can't understand a word he says. He imagines that Ashe gives a militant speech, urging them to continue the fight against liberation, but knows that's unlikely.
  • Ashe loses the finals to Jimmy Connor. But he did beat Tom Okker, a Dutchman and the first black man to be honored in tennis in South Africa.
  • Before he leaves, Ashe meets with officials and urges them to abandon apartheid.
  • Mark starts working even harder at tennis, knowing that some young people in Alexandra look up to him. He figures he should be something worth looking up to.
  • Scaramouche encourages Mark to write to Arthur Ashe. Mark does it and sends the letter through the Black Tennis Foundation, an organization Ashe started in South Africa.
  • Mark receives no reply and grows discouraged.
  • But still, he continues to cultivate relationships with the white people that seem genuine. Mark knows it's his ticket out of Alexandra.

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