Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy is a story on South Africa’s historical social, political and economic challenges that define what South Africans are today. South Africans were subjected to horrendous experiences during the apartheid era that made them fight social economic and political prejudice through various means culminating in the end of apartheid in 1994 when the late Nelson Mandela was elected as the first Black President in independent South Africa. This essay discusses the various historical social, political and economic challenges that define what South Africans are today.
Firstly, the Abuse of power theme graphically illustrated in the novel turns out to be a sweltering condemnation of South Africa’s National Party’s prejudiced and immoral abuse of power. Upon winning the 1948 elections on the foundation of permitting apartheid the party made the minority whites the law makers. They went on to enact restrictions on residential areas, medication, schools and movement of the majority blacks to certain selected ghettos on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Blacks were prohibited from leaving their residential areas without passes that contained their employment status, their photograph, marital information and address. Mathabane just like all other South African blacks was subjected to this abusive system till the early 90s.
Secondly the lack of equal opportunities is also prominently illustrated in Kaffir Boy. Mathabane is imprisoned for not being employed. While behind bars his wife and children search for food on the ghetto’s outskirts every morning. They get to the dump sites early in the morning to be the first ones to get the plenty of food items thrown by rich whites that live in classy urban establishments. This shows how the blacks suffer because of lack of equal opportunities.
Thirdly, Gender equality is also another critical theme in Kaffir Boy. Tribal traditions perceive daughters as more precious than sons mainly because men must pay their bride price referred to as labola in order to get wives. Consequently, persons of the female gender are viewed more as property than human beings. In spite of being abused, Mathabane’s mother cannot leave her marriage because the bride price that Jackson paid her father has already been spent, apart from that; it would be suicidal to abandon her daughters to her husband’s mistreatment.
Fourthly, victim and victimization is also well illustrated in Kaffir Boy. Jackson Mathabane having been so terribly victimized and weakened by the apartheid system permeates bitterness and alcoholism to transform him into a victimizer where he abuses his children and wife. However, his wife declines to be victimized; she stands up to him on contentious issues and if push comes to shove she seeks asylum in her mother’s abode. By use of her love and wisdom she prevents her son aged ten from committing suicide and transforms him from a victim to a winner through teaching him the will to survive.
In conclusion, indeed Kaffir Boy is a story on South Africa’s historical social, political and economic challenges that define what South Africans are today. Firstly, apartheid was entrenched in the system when the national party won the 1948 elections. The ghettos that blacks were forced to dwell in are still present in post apartheid South Africa. Secondly the lack of equal opportunities has led to many blacks getting involved in crime; this has made Johannesburg one of the most unsafe cities in the world. Thirdly, Gender equality is also another critical theme in Kaffir Boy; however the fight for gender equality has seen many South African women being appointed and elected to leadership positions. Finally, today many South African black women have refused to be victimized and are working hard to ensure they get equal opportunities as men.