Study Guide

Kaffir Boy Chapter 42

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Chapter 42

  • On June 16, 1976, after the Department of Bantu Education decreed that all black schools had to teach Afrikaans instead of English, students erupt into protest.
  • Ten thousand students march through the streets of Soweto, protesting against the language of the oppressors.
  • The police barricade the streets and open fire on the students, killing several children and wounding hundreds.
  • Like everyone around him, Mark is angry and saddened by the reports. Men and women cry openly, and can't believe that the police opened fire against unarmed young people.
  • Mark's friend David tells him their lives will never again be the same.
  • At school, the Principal addresses the incident, telling students that they need to go on with their lives and return to normal.
  • The students yell that there will be no school, that the struggle in Soweto is also the struggle in Alexandra.
  • They make placards and start to march through the streets, picking up hundreds of students and heading to the stadium in Alexandra.
  • Police barricade the street. Student leaders scream at everybody not to panic but to remain peaceful and calm, even while the police emerge in riot gear. Using a megaphone, the police tell them to return home or they'll use force.
  • Students start to sing "Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika" as the police charge, firing tear gas. With David, Mark runs away all the way to school, where they were told to go home because the police were raiding the schools.
  • As they head to the bus stop, they see that some beer halls and cars had been set on fire.
  • Luckily, they find the last of the buses leaving Tembisa. (The police are quarantining the ghetto.)
  • On the way home, they see an unusual amount of cars on the road and realize that whites are leaving Johannesburg, afraid of a revolution.
  • The bus is stopped and soldiers come on board, ordering them out with automatic weapons and lining them up along the bus.
  • A white soldier tells them they have to walk home, because buses can't go in there.
  • Alexandra is burning down: beer halls, government buildings, stores belonging to Indians and the Chinese. People are rioting and looting groceries.
  • Over the next several days, school is canceled and people march and hold demonstrations. Some workers support the students and boycott their jobs, but eventually, survival comes first and people return to their jobs.
  • School, however, is still canceled. Meanwhile, the police kill several hundred students in their attempts to regain control.
  • Mark joins the action. One day, when he sees a mob hack some dogs to death because they belonged to a Chinese family, Mark realizes that what they are doing is "senseless" (42.47).
  • But Mark is caught up in the struggle, and takes some of the spoils from the looting. As they head home, everybody is talking about what they'll do with all the food and other items they've taken. But even as they head home, the army arrives, shooting tear gas canisters. People leave their loot behind and they run away.
  • Mark takes shelter in a small shack nearby, and the old man in the shack asks him why the students are protesting when the police will just use it as an excuse to kill them all. Mark tells him they're fighting for freedom and the old man tells him it's useless.
  • Mark looks out the gate and sees a girl he knows, Mashudu, being dragged away by the police.
  • She might have been dead – there was blood on her dress – but he realizes he needs to get home and tell her parents.
  • The old man tells him there's a way out of the back. Mark escapes and tells the girl's parents what happened. The funeral is Sunday and hundreds of people attend, despite the fact that such gatherings are banned. The preacher speaks, saying that Mashudu represents the hundreds of children who need strength to overcome the oppressors.
  • Mark realizes it could have been him, or his brothers and sisters, being buried right now instead of Mashudu. He goes home from the funeral and begins to question whether Gandhi's ideas of peaceful resistance will really work in South Africa.
  • No, he realizes, the only kind of revolution that will work in South Africa is a violent one, the kind that comes from the barrel of a gun.
  • But does Mark have the courage to resist in that way, to kill a man? He's not sure.

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