Biography of Mark Mathabane

By: Shalaka Damle

Connection to Novel

  • Obvious connection with autobiographical account
  • Kaffir Boy illustrated his growing up in Alexandra, basically entire childhood and teenage years


  • Born Johannes Mathabane (pronounced "Mot-ta-bon-ee") on October 18, 1960 in Alexandra, South Africa
  • Changed name to Mark during Soweto riots to disguise himself from the white South African government
  • Eldest of 7 children
  • Son of Jackson (laborer), Magdelene (washerwoman)
  • Married Gail Ernsberger in 1987 and have 3 children: Bianca, Nathan, and Stanley


  • Grew up in South Africa under harsh system of Apartheid
  • Witnessed violence, suffered malnutrition and harassment
  • "There was a time when I thought that if life meant unending suffering and pain, there was no use living." (start at 3:50)
Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy author, on suicide attempt at 10
  • Received an education, although different from both his parents
  • Started to play tennis and under the guidance of Stan Smith, was able to come to America


  • Mathabane left South Africa in 1978 and boarded plane to Limestone College
  • "Tennis became my passport to freedom in America, I continued to encounter white racists, but their bigotry failed to eradicate in me the reality that there were other whites who were different."
  • Later transferred to St. Louis College (1979), then to Quincy College (1981), then finally to Dowling College (1981)
  • Pursued graduate studies at Columbia University (1984)
  • Later on received honorary doctorate from Wittenburg University
  • Upon graduation at Dowling College, started to write Kaffir Boy

Other Works and Achievements

Other literary works include:

  • Kaffir Boy in America: An Encounter with Apartheid
  • Love in Black and White: The Triumph of Love over Prejudice and Taboo
  • African Women: Three Generations
  • Ubuntu*
  • Miriam's Song
  • The Proud Liberal*

  • From 1992-1993, served as a White House Fellow under President Bill Clinton and assisted with education policies
  • Well known speaker and has been a guest on numerous radio and TV talk shows
  • In 2000, established the Magdalene Scholarship Fund, a non profit organization which aids a primary school in Alexandra