Familial and Societal Violence

By Clayton Whitt & Josh Syre


Violence is everywhere in Kaffir Boy. Mark is the victim of police violence, the victim of violence perpetrated by his father, and then the victim of violence when he tries to leave a gang that he joined as a young boy. The violence he witnesses makes life seem worthless and pointless. Mark almost commits suicide one day when he's ten years old, and has come to the conclusion that life is not worth all the violence that comes along with it. Mark makes it through his brief suicidal period because of his mother's love, and his love for his little sisters. But the role of violence in his life isn't over. For a short period, Mark participates in violence, such as during the Soweto riots of 1976. Eventually, he realizes he doesn't have a stomach for that kind of life. When he decides not to be a tsotsi (gangster), his mother is relieved, and tells him he's chosen the more difficult, but correct, path.

Societal Quotes

Quote #1

"The pounding and kicking at the door awakened my sister, and she started screaming from under the table. After what seemed like an eternity I unlatched the door. As it swung wide open, with tremendous force, two tall black policemen in stiff brown uniforms rushed in and immediately blinded me with the glare from their flashlights. Before I knew what was happening one of them had kicked me savagely on the side, sending me crashing into a crate in the far corner. I hit the crate with such force that I nearly passed out. With stars in my eyes I grabbed the edges of the crate and tried to rise, but I couldn't; my knees had turned to Jell-O, my eyes were cloudy and my head pounded as if it were being split with an axe. AS I tried to gather my sense, another kick sent me back to the floor, flat on my face. As I went down, my jaw struck the blunt side of the blade of an axe jutting form the side of the crate. My head burned with pain. Blood began oozing form my nostrils and lips. Several of my teeth were loose. I started screaming, forgetting all about my fathers' rule, begging for forgiveness form my assailant for whatever wrong I had done." (3.25)

The Peri-Urban police use violence even on black children because under apartheid, blacks of all ages are seen as inhuman. Such a conclusion was used to justify all kinds of repugnant behavior. This is one of the many examples showing the extreme societal violence in Mark's life.

Quote #2

I kept silent, sensing that Jarvas was provoking me into saying something that might give him an excuse to stab me. I bore the stream of filth he and his cohorts spewed at me, for I knew that it was better to act a coward and live than to act a hero and end up six feet under.

"What have you to say, wimp?" Jarvas sneered. "Will you fight, or will you hide behind your mama's apron like a little girl?"

"I'll fight in the next fight," I said. (31.18-20)

The gang is not going to let Mark leave without a fight. Although Mark recognizes the necessity of staying away from violence, he is afraid and agrees to fight. Society has planted the ideas in people. The thought of not fighting and not conducting violence is frowned upon. So now the cycle of violence continues.

Quote #3

"On the way home, voices kept ringing in my head. Why do you fight when you don't want to? It could easily have been you with the gouged eye. Are you willing to pay such a price for conformity? Leave the gang, leave it now, while you still have both eyes, and your life; leave it now and be called a wimp for the rest of your life, if need be; but do not needlessly, recklessly and foolishly jeopardize your future. I never again fought for any gang." (31.25-26)

Mark pulls the plug on gang figthing, realizing he doesn't want to lead a life that will get him killed. He'll take his books and tennis and run for his life.

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This leaflet called for protests at the U.S. Open in September 1977, when a white South African tennis team was being allowed to compete in violation of the international sports boycott of South Africa

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Familial Violence

Quote #1

"Shut your mouth!" she screamed. "Don't you have enough brains in that big head of yours to realize that you can't talk like that here! Not in front of him! You know what he'll do when he hears you talk like that about him? He'll shoot you dead, that's what he'll do! Now calm down and keep your mouth shut, when we get in there! He won't hurt you so long as I'm with you. Keep your mouth shut, you hear? – or you're dead." (20.69)

When Mark sees the white man who leads the nightly raids in Alexandra, he's terrified. His mother tries to shut him up by using terror and violence to control him. Violence is such a normal part of their world that it seems normal to use it to control a child. So here we can see the society's brutal rage influence Mark's family. In such a stressful environment, violence works almost in a cycle.

Quote #2

"My parents, thinking I was bewitched, took me to a witch doctor, who made me drink a strange brew and bled me with a razor blade, all to no avail: I continued withdrawing into myself. What made this death different from the many others I had seen previously I do not really know.

One thing I do know was that I could not understand the morbid cruelty and satanic impulses that drove people to kill others. For what? I asked myself. What is to be gained from killing a fellow-sufferer?" (27.38-39)

Witnessing such an inhumane act as a vicious murder causes Mark such anguish that he isolates himself from the rest of humanity.

Quote #3

“The next day, as I nursed my wounds, while my father was at work, I told my mother that I hated him and promised her I would kill him when I grew up…

“Shut that bad mouth of yours!” My mother threatened to smack me.

“Why does he beat me, then?” I protested. “Other fathers don’t beat their children.” My friends always boasted that their fathers never laid a hand on them.”

“He’s trying to discipline you…”(5. 13-19)

Mark told his mother that he threatened to kill his father, yet she's trying to defend him by threatening him back. Threats and violence-related comments come so natural and are so common in Mark's life: threatening to kill his father sounds "normal" to him.

Discussion Questions

1. Think about the many indignities that Mark and his family suffered. Why do you think Mark was able to persist and rise above the system? What gave him courage to succeed?

2. Given the level of violence that is ongoing today in a free and democratic South Africa, what kinds of solutions can we offer?

3. Who are the victims of violence in Kaffir Boy? Is it easy to tell who the actual victims are?

4. Is racism based on a fear and hatred of another people's religious and cultural values and traditions as much as it's based on skin color – or is racism purely a fear and hatred of people who look different?

5. Between familial and societal violence, which one turns out to be the worst out of the two and why?

6. How does the violence towards blacks in Kaffir Boy relate to the violence towards animals in Animal Farm?

Works Cited

AODL. "Documents." South Africa. AODL, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.

Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. New York: Macmillan, 1986. Print.

TMN. "Tadamon." Tadamon. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.

UN. "Apartheid Timeline." UN. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.