Kaffir Boy is a powerful autobiography written by Mark Mathabane, which details his childhood and adolescence growing up in the impoverished South African township of Alexandra. The book chronicles Mathabane's struggles with poverty, racism, police brutality, and other challenges faced by black citizens living under apartheid. It also highlights the strength of family bonds and faith that allowed him to rise above these difficulties to become an internationally renowned tennis player. Kaffir Boy has been widely praised for its insight into life during this difficult time period in South Africa's history, as well as its raw emotionality and vivid description.
The narrative begins when Mathabane was six years old and follows him through his teenage years until he escapes from apartheid-era South Africa at 18. Through his story, we witness the harsh realities of living under white rule, such as extreme poverty, malnutrition, and a lack of education opportunities due to segregationist laws like the Bantu Education Act. But we also see examples of resilience within communities despite these obstacles, such as organizing protests against unjust laws or using sport (in particular tennis) to escape oppressive conditions. We are able to see how families were forced out of their homes due to government policies yet still found ways to survive while remaining hopeful about their futures. They could do this because they had each other's support systems intact—something highlighted throughout the book via various relationships between characters, including those between father-son pairs mentioned earlier on in the text, which eventually led the protagonist towards achieving freedom abroad. Mathabane was accepted into a US university scholarship program based on his success playing competitively at local tournaments back home. He was lucky to have been able to pursue a better life elsewhere, away from an oppressive regime where "blackness [was] a crime punishable by death."
Kaffir Boy has received critical acclaim since it was first published in 1986, with reviewers noting its importance for not only providing a unique perspective regarding what really happened inside a racialized state during the era of apartheid but also doing so without resorting to sentimentality and melodrama often used to depict the same subject matter.