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
Note: Kaffir Boy contains elements that some readers may
find offensive, including scenes of violence and child abuse.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Post It.
Suggest that students create a poster promoting interracial cooperation
and understanding. You might display these posters in the classroom
or school hallway.
- 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.
- 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.