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Kaffir Boy

Mark Mathabane

Theme: Intolerance and Racism
Grades: Grades 10-11

In this autobiography, Mark Mathabane describes his childhood and youth growing up in the black ghetto of Alexandra in South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. He and his family live in a two-room shack with no running water, heat, or electricity. Under South Africa's system of apartheid, their lives are a daily struggle to survive. They endure frequent police raids, and Mathabane's father is arrested and subjected to forced labor on a white-owned farm. The mother and children must scavenge for food in garbage dumps. Mathabane's mother is determined, however, that her son should go to school and gain an education in order to have a better life. Mathabane excels in school, and, inspired by African-American tennis player Arthur Ashe, he takes up tennis. During the student uprisings of the 1970s, Mathabane participates in protests against apartheid, but he dreams of escaping from South Africa entirely by gaining a tennis scholarship to an American university. With the help of American tennis player Stan Smith, whom he meets at a tournament, his dream becomes a reality. In this powerful and inspiring memoir, Mathabane depicts the terrible toll of apartheid on the lives of individuals, while at the same time portraying the incredible strength of the human spirit.

Note: Kaffir Boy contains elements that some readers may find offensive, including scenes of violence and child abuse.

  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: South Africa.
    Invite students to work together as a class or in small groups to share what they know about life in South Africa during the second half of the 20th century. Record the students' facts and impressions on the chalkboard in chart form, with such headings as Geography, History, Race Relations, and Economy.
  1. Linking to Today: Racism.
    Even though segregation is no longer legal in the United States, the lingering effects of racism and discrimination are still apparent throughout the country today. Have individual students or groups make a list of these effects and share their lists with the entire class.
  1. The March of Time.
    Kaffir Boy describes a number of important events in South Africa's history, such as the Sharpeville Massacre and the Soweto riots. Have students prepare a time line of recent South African history, beginning with the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. Tell students to research news magazines, newspapers, and the Internet to extend their time line up to the present.

  1. Post It.
    Suggest that students create a poster promoting interracial cooperation and understanding. You might display these posters in the classroom or school hallway.
  1. South African Ethnic Groups.
    Have students research a black South African ethnic group, such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Venda, or Swazi. Students then write a research paper in which they describe the history, customs, beliefs, and other aspects of the group's culture.

  2. South African Leaders.
    Have students investigate the life and work of one of the famous anti-apartheid leaders mentioned in Kaffir Boy, such as Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, or Robert Sobukwe. Students then write a biographical sketch of the person, telling how he or she hoped to bring down apartheid.