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Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography--The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa Paperback – October 7, 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (October 7, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684848287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684848280
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kaffir Boy does for apartheid-era South Africa what Richard Wright's Black Boy did for the segregated American South. In stark prose, Mathabane describes his life growing up in a nonwhite ghetto outside Johannesburg--and how he escaped its horrors. Hard work and faith in education played key roles, and Mathabane eventually won a tennis scholarship to an American university. This is not, needless to say, an opportunity afforded to many of the poor blacks who make up most of South Africa's population. And yet Mathabane reveals their troubled world on these pages in a way that only someone who has lived this life can. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this powerful account of growing up black in South Africa, a young writer makes us feel intensely the horrors of apartheid. Living illegally in a shanty outside Johannesburg, Johannes (renamed Mark) Mathabane and his illiterate family endured the heartbreak and hopelessness of poverty and the violence of sadistic police and marauding gangs. He describes his drunken father's attempts to inculcate his tribal beliefs and to prevent his son from getting an educationthe one means by which he might escape from the ghetto. Encouraged by his determined mother and grandmother, Mathabane taught himself to read English and play tennis, and, through the assistance of U.S. tennis star Stan Smith and his own efforts and intelligence, obtained a tennis scholarship from a South Carolina college in 1978. Now he is a freelance writer in New York. In the course of relating his inspiring story, he explains the anger and hate that his country's blacks feel toward white people and the inevitability of their rebellion against the Afrikaner government. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Mark Mathabane touched the hearts of millions with his sensational autobiography, Kaffir Boy. Telling the true story of his coming of age under apartheid in South Africa, the book won a prestigious Christopher Award, rose to No. 3 on The New York Times bestsellers list and to No. 1 on the Washington Post bestsellers list, and was translated into several languages. Today, the book is used in classrooms across the U.S. and is on the American Library Association's List of "Outstanding Books for the College-Bound."

Born of destitute parents whose $10-a-week wage could not pay the rent for their shack or put food on the table, Mathabane spent the first 18 years of his life as the eldest of seven children in a one-square-mile ghetto that was home to more than 200,000 blacks.

A childhood of devastating poverty, terrifying police raids and relentless humiliation drove him to the brink of suicide at age ten. A love of learning and books and his dreams of tennis stardom, inspired by Arthur Ashe, carried him from despair, hate and anger to possibility and hope. His illiterate mother believed that education was the only way out of the ghetto. Her courage and sacrifice turned Mathabane's life around.

Mathabane did what no physically and psychologically battered "Kaffir" from the mean streets of Alexandra was supposed to do -- he escaped to tell about it. Tennis was Mathabane's passport to freedom. In 1978, with the help of 1972 Wimbledon champion Stan Smith, Mathabane left South Africa to attend an American university on scholarship. In 1983 Mathabane graduated cum laude with a degree in Economics from Dowling College in Oakdale, New York, where he was the first black editor of the college newspaper.

After studies at the Poynter Media Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Mathabane completed the manuscript of Kaffir Boy and went on to write several more books. He has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Today," CNN, NPR, "The Charlie Rose Show," "Larry King," and numerous other TV and radio programs across the country. His provocative articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today. He has been featured in Time, Newsweek and People magazines. A sought-after lecturer, he was nominated for Speaker of the Year by the National Association for Campus Activities.

In 1989, Kaffir Boy in America, which continues the story of Kaffir Boy, was published by Scribner's and became a national bestseller following Mathabane's second appearance on Oprah. In 1992, Love in Black and White, a non-fiction book about interracial relationships and race relations in America, co-authored by his wife, Gail, was published by HarperCollins. In 1994, Mathabane's fourth book appeared -- African Women: Three Generations, which describes the struggles, relationships and triumphs of three South African women who were heroines in Kaffir Boy -- his grandmother, mother and sister Florah.

In September 1997, Mark completed a one-year assignment as a White House Fellow at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., where he helped implement several education initiatives.

His latest work of non-fiction, Miriam's Song, published by Simon & Schuster in 2000, tells the true story of his sister Miriam's coming of age during the turmoil and violence that preceded the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela's election. His first work of fiction, Ubuntu, is a thriller set against the politically and racially tense backdrop of post-apartheid South Africa. His second novel, The Proud Liberal, tells the story of how a political candidate's daughter thwarts the deadly plans of domestic terrorists in North Carolina.

The movie based on Kaffir Boy is set to begin filming in the fall of 2010 in Alexandra, South Africa. Mark continues to lecture and be involved with his charity, the Magdalene Scholarship Fund, which pays for books, school fees and uniforms for students at Bovet School in Alexandra, South Africa. His website is www.mathabane.com.

Customer Reviews

This life story was unbelievable.
Carol Balsiger
I was assigned to read this book a few years ago for English class in college.
Mathabane shows a great many literary strengths here.
J. K. Kelley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By J. K. Kelley on October 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Not much of an introduction needed here: the full title of the book accurately sums up the subject. This was a book that I bought in used paperback not certain whether I'd finish it, and found myself deeply engrossed in the story and in reflection upon Mathabane's descriptions of life under apartheid.
Mathabane shows a great many literary strengths here. His candid expression of his own feelings can't help but inspire the reader's respect and interest; the whole book feels 'spoken from the heart'. His prejudices, embarrassing moments, times of despair, moments of triumph, and peer relations are all here. Of particular interest to me (naturally, as a white non-South African) was the development of his views of white people--South Africans and foreigners--and how his understanding becomes broader as he meets a wider variety of people. I came away thinking that I'd probably really like Mark Mathabane in person.
His youth in fact makes a good story, one that builds nicely to a conclusion I won't spoil for you except to carefully mention that this is the story only of his youth, not of his whole life. And his descriptive talent, which painted such vivid and contrasting portraits of the life he led, is worthy of the great storytellers of the proud tribes of southern Africa from which he is descended. I would offer the caveat that the book contains explicit sexual and violent scenes that most people would consider inappropriate for children under 14 (and even then I'm assuming a pretty well-adjusted child). Mathabane is never himself vulgar, but some of his experiences certainly were, and he gets through them as quickly as possible but I see why he didn't omit them.
If you ever wondered what life was like for South African blacks under apartheid, particularly for a highly gifted member of that group striving upward against every barrier that several cultures could place before him, this'll be a revelation.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
I'm in 10th grade. our teacher is having us read this. Then some of the parents found out about the "sexual activities" for food. They flipped. Now i would have thought being parent they would be mature about this. it is a book of the past and and our teacher said when we read it we want to try to prevent past from repeating itself. Althought it has some pretty discriminating and discusting parts it is a good book. We must not forget, this happened here. on this earth on which we live on. what happenes to one person(s) can gradualy effect others and still grow. This was a life that had suffered all this, he knows the feeling of it. It's not an experence we want to know of, but the life of this child growing up help others realze, this stuff can go around on this earth all the time and anytime.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on January 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
I never had the slightest idea of what "apartheid" was until I read this book. I had thought it might just be segregation. But it was so much more than just segregation.

Mark Mathabane introduces us to the horrors of his childhood growing up in South Africa, from family problems, to gangs, and the unjust Pass Laws. He learns the value of education and shows just how hard it is to persevere when oppressed by whites who believe Africans to be inferior.

Starting from the 1960's, it provided an in-depth look at the Apartheid from a victim's point of view. It amazed me that it was all real...all the killing and poverty.

It was a very powerful novel. It gave me good sense of the meaning of "apartheid". I would suggest it for those who want to get a good idea of the type of thinking and enduring that went on in South Africa during apartheid. Because it doesn't quite focus on the events of history, but is a personal account of a youth's hardships, the book is very effective in evoking emotions, portraying hardships, rather than just stating the facts.

I really was able to take away a lot from this book. I finished it with a greater sense of the power of perserverance, hopes, and achieving goals.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Y. on May 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm homeschooling my 13 y.o. son & we are currently learning about South Africa and apartheid. After much research and reading 4 other books, Waiting for the Rain, Cry the beloved Country, A dry white season, and The power of One, I read Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane. Since reading this book, I have not stopped thinking about Mark and his bittersweet life, mostly bitter, anything sweet coming from his mother. The horrors he and his family endured were at times hard to read, but he and his mother were so inspiring in the way they managed to lift themselves above this horrific thing called apartheid. It is a very hopeful and uplifting book putting my own petty problems into perspective. Mathabane's gift of expression and putting words on paper that turn into pictures in your mind and deep feelings of despair and hope in your heart is exceptional. He has written 3 other books which it seems to my dissapointment are currently out of print, but I will find them and read them. I could not put Kaffir Boy down and it has changed me. I highly reccommend it.
Mari Yunker St. George Utah
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Matt Walb on January 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Growing Up
The book Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane is without a doubt a worthwhile read. Its unique detail and harsh reality is unparalleled by any other novel. It is the story of Johannes Mathabane, growing up in the racially unequal apartheid of South Africa. Throughout the book, he is treated under awful conditions, yet learns to persevere and comes out on top in a most heroic manner. It tells of overcoming all of the obstacles in his life - including his father, the government, and his tribal heritage. This book is not only enjoyable to read, but it is also an important book as it opens America's eyes to those less fortunate living under impossible odds.
The book takes place in South Africa, where whites predominately rule. Johannes, who later changes his name to Mark, is a young boy just beginning to experience the hatred and racism in apartheid, a ghetto in Alexandra. The book starts out immediately showing the daily terror that he had to live.  With constant raids, by the black police (headed by whites), Johannes soon develops a hate for all white people, as his parents have to constantly flee because their "passbooks are not in order". Things begin to go bad after his father is taken away to jail for a year. Poverty and hunger consumes their ever-increasing family. When his father returns, he is never the same. An internal struggle begins to develop within Johannes. He is torn between his father's tribal beliefs and the new changing era of schooling and Christianity. As he grows older his metamorphosis begins and a hatred starts to brew inside for his father. His mother turns his life around by enrolling him in school. He prospers greatly and begins to think differently of some whites as his exposure grows.
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