Kaffir Boy

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Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa
Kaffir Boy cover.jpg
Author Mark Mathabane
Genre Autobiography
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
Media type Print

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa is Mark Mathabane's 1986 autobiography about life under the South African apartheid regime. It focuses on the brutality of the apartheid system and how he escaped from it, and from the township Alexandra, to become a well-known tennis player. He also depicted how the young black children dealt with racism and stereotypes. By embracing education, he is able to rise out of despair and destitution.

Plot summary[edit]

At his mother's insistence, Mathabane starts school and learns to love it, rising to the top of his class in spite of frequent punishments due to his family's late payments for school fees and inability to afford school supplies. He graduates from primary school with a scholarship that will pay for his secondary education.

Mathabane's grandmother becomes a gardener for a kind family, the Smiths, who introduce Mathabane to books and tennis by sending books and even a tennis racket home with his grandmother for him. He learns English from these books, and begins to play tennis frequently, eventually befriending a coloured tennis player who trains him.

Mathabane joins the high school tennis team and begins to play in tournaments, unofficially sponsored by Wilfred Horn, owner of the Tennis Ranch. It is technically illegal for Mark to play there, but the law is ignored and he becomes comfortable with whites. Eventually renowned tennis player Stan Smith takes Mathabane under his wing when the two meet at a tournament. Stan pays for Mathabane to compete in tournaments and talks to his coach at the University of Southern California about Mathabane attending college in the states. The coach writes to colleges on his behalf and Mathabane earns a tennis scholarship to Limestone College and leaves for the U.S. in 1978.[1]

Characters and important people[edit]

  • Arthur Ashe - A black American tennis player who wins the Wimbledon tournament. His game play encourages Mathabane to become a tennis player.
  • Mark Mathabane - The author and narrator of the book
  • The Smiths – The white family who introduce Mathabane to books and tennis.
  • Wilfred Horn – Owner of exclusive Tennis Ranch and unofficial sponsor of Mathabane.
  • Stan Smith - Renowned tennis player who relocates Mathabane to the United States by finding a college who is willing to give the author a tennis scholarship.


Kaffir Boy has been banned in a number of schools, one of these being Cedar Crest High School, where the ban made headlines.[2] The bans are due to a controversial scene involving child prostitution and sodomy, which some have referred to as "pornography," sparking another headline defending the scene.[3] While Mathabane wrote an article for the Washington Post stating that he would prefer it to be banned completely to being revised or censored,[4] Mathabane has since authorized a revised version for use in such schools.[5] The unrevised book is still used as high school reading material regardless of the controversial scenes.

Reception and awards[edit]

The book Kaffir Boy has won the prestigious Christopher Award for inspiring hope. The book reached number one on the Washington Post Bestseller's List and number three on the New York Times Bestseller's List. It has also been chosen by the American Library Association for inclusion on the list of "Outstanding Books for the College-Bound and Life-Long Learners." [6]


  1. ^ Shmoop Editorial Team. "Kaffir Boy Summary". Shmoop.com. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  2. ^ Hackman, Ben (2008-03-05). "Book causes stir at CCHS". The Daily News. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  3. ^ "Censorship: An obscene idea". The Evening Sun. 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  4. ^ Mathabane, Mark (2008). ""If You Assign My Book, Don't Censor It"". In Dorothy Seyler. Read, Reason, Write: An Argument Text and Reader. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 502–505. 
  5. ^ BURLINGAME / Banned author talks to kids - SFGate
  6. ^ Mathabane, Mark. "Books". Mark Mathabane Official Website. Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2010-10-26.