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Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  14,255 ratings  ·  713 reviews

The Classic Story of Life in Apartheid South Africa

Mark Mathabane was weaned on devastating poverty and schooled in the cruel streets of South Africa's most desperate ghetto, where bloody gang wars and midnight police raids were his rites of passage. Like every other child born in the hopelessness of apartheid, he learned to measure his life in days, not years. Yet Mark

Paperback, 354 pages
Published October 7th 1998 by Free Press (first published 1986)
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4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  14,255 ratings  ·  713 reviews

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Sep 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Wow-this is an eye opening book. Mark Mathabane writes of his life as a Black boy in South Africa during Apartheid. I had no idea what went on during that era (and sadly some of what went on then, is probably still happening now). i found this book listed on a list of books that people want to ban...which means that I should probably read them. After reading it, I'm not sure why anyone would want to ban it. I think everyone should read it. It is HISTORY and a reality that perhaps we don't want t ...more
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
It is always hard to write a fair review about a book where you've fallen out with the protagonist, who, by the end of the book, I found mildly irritating and preachy. I am in two minds about this book which on the one hand I found insightful and revealing, but on the other, tediously introspective and lacking in realism. That's not to say that I don't buy into the representation of SA that Mathabane puts forward, it is simply that the book is written, intentionally or otherwise, in a childish m ...more
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a stark autobiography of a young boy growing up in a ghetto in apartheid South Africa in the 1960s and 70s. The narrative vividly describes apartheid and the unbearable conditions its laws inflicted on blacks: racism, extreme poverty, constant hunger, brutality, constant fear and intimidation.

Matabane’s teenage dream to get out of the ghetto faced almost impossible odds. In addition to the conditions under apartheid, he also had to contend with his father’s violent personality, his triba
Apr 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Kara Murphy
Ms Houseman
World Lit

Mark Mathabane
Kaffir Boy
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007
354 pp. $15.00

“Let us not rest until we are free to live in dignity in the land of our birth.”(Mark Mathabane) Mark Mathabane dedicates this quote in his autobiography (Kaffir Boy) to the people in South Africa for the struggle and fight for freedom. The autobiography shows the cruel punishment black South Africans suffer from white South Africans in the 1950’s, getting in great de
Thomas Armstrong
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm going to South Africa next week and so I'm preparing myself with a variety of ''you must read'' books about the country. After reading a history of apartheid, this book gave it a human perspective for me. Reading this book showed me how all those damnable laws that happened at the top of the elite white hierarchy in South Africa affected the powerless millions of non-whites at the bottom. Mathabane writes eloquently about his growing up in the midst of poverty, violence, disease, conflict, a ...more
Feb 15, 2012 rated it liked it
I picked this book off of the free shelf at the library and got exactly what I expected: An introspective look into black life during apartheid. While interesting, if you know anything about apartheid, the information will not come as a surprise. It's uplifting to think that this man made it out so well, but I wish he would have added a postscript at the end, letting us know about what happened to the rest of his family. All I could think of at the end of the book was about how much I wondered h ...more
Jan 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of my favorites. I fell in love with Mark Mathabane; I fell in love with his resilience, his strength, his continuous belief in himself as a black man, and his struggle against the disgusting system of Apartheid in South Africa. Throughout the book, Mark refuses to believe what the white man affirms of him. On the contrary, he believes in his intelligence and his strength, fighting the struggle to improve the lives of Black people. I could not put the book down.

Even with his ju
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I usually don't read many biographies but after reading only a few pages, I was hooked. I ended up reading the whole novel in one sitting, and it was completely worth it.

I can't even begin to understand the challenges for people living in Apartheid South Africa. However, this autobiography really set the stage for helping the reader start the grasp the significance and solemnity of this period of time.

Mark Mathabane is a truly powerful figure. It was really inspiring how big he dreamed and pushe
This book is beautiful in its tragic solemnity, in some ways a breed apart from other books written on the subject. After reading, I closed it and sighed heftily. A sigh from what? I'm not sure: relief, understanding, sadness...something that made me sit in silent thought for a few minutes. Here is the firsthand account of a young boy who comes of age in the slums of Alexandra, apartheid South Africa, during the 1960s, during an era when the brutality of apartheid was not yet acknowledged. The b ...more
Garrett Zecker
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
There is no reason to forget the horrible atrocities of apartheid, and this book truly will open your eyes to a society that is indifferent to differences and creates second class citizens in their own homeland. If you do not know anything about the subject, this book will serve as a complete eye-opener and education on what the average young family had to go through in Africa in a painful history that did not happen very long ago. Killing gangs, youth prostitution, and lack of clean water, food ...more
Bailey Olfert
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, but that's a tall order. The author comes across as annoying, preachy, and selfish. Certainly, there are revealing details of life in apartheid South Africa, and we should know these truths. Yet, his self-involvement becomes quite grating at times; his siblings, for instance, are portrayed as purely one-dimensional characters.
Mathabane describes his early years in minute detail, and also recounts conversations as if they were recorded, and these affectations cause me
Jul 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of South Africa from 2009-2011, so when I read this book, I felt as if I were living behind the eyes of one of my kids I worked with during that time. In a country with so much beauty and diversity, abject poverty and opulent wealth live right next door to each other sometimes. This is one of the dichotomies that makes South Africa the rainbow nation it claims to be. Race relations, haves and have nots, these things come to a head on a daily ba ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Wow. This book was really an eye-opener. Before I read this, I didn't really know anything about the apartheid. This book was outrageous, but in a good way. It makes you want to go do something about the issues raised. Overall, an excellent read. The author does a good job of including important incidents that help you get inside his everyday life. By the time you get to the end, you will be rooting for this guy to succeed.
Zach Smith
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I lived and went to school barely 5 minutes away from the Alexandra township, but knew absolutely nothing about life there until I read this book. I even played tennis in the same places Mark Mathabane did without realizing the history.

I really wish this was a book that was covered in my high school, as it would have given me a greater understanding of the context that I grew up in.
Mar 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I read this years ago, and I still think about him...
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring and phenomenal. You feel like you're going through life with Mark (Johannes). Graphic at times so I recommend to ages 14 and up.
Melissa Meyer
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Enlightening, distressing, sad and beautiful.
Melissa Ramirez
Nov 01, 2015 rated it liked it
The first portion of this book was incredibly powerful; the second, even more so. However, the third and final portion (Passport to Freedom) - although ending on a bittersweet note, seemed like a big stretch, considering the life Johannes started out living. I usually love stories of 'the underdog'. I watch sports movies, for example, and you can bet that 95% of those movies succeed in making me root for the 'underdog' team, or the kid with the odds stacked against him. But while I felt for Joha ...more
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History Teachers, History Students, Political Activists
Recommended to Michael by: Brandon Hunziker
Shelves: memoirs, politics
This is, undeniably, a disturbing book, and some parents have objected to its use as a teaching tool at the High School level. I used it in a class on “The World After 1945” at the University level and found it very effective. It engages the students with a period in history many of them have only vaguely heard about, but which engaged my generation with a sense of international responsibility. Being anti-apartheid was one of the most effective activist rallying cries of the 1980s, and it remain ...more
Vivify M
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book. I read it, because I want to understand the experiences of black people living under apartheid.
I thought hearing the unpleasant truths, no matter how it was written, would leave me with more insight and understanding.
And to some extent that was true, but mostly this book just felt disingenuous and frustrating.

I’m sure, like Mathabanes other accomplishments, this book was important and ground breaking in its time. But, I found it reads like the poorly writt
Sarah Rahim
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
I thought that Kaffir boy was an eye-opening book as well. I had never herd about apartheid until I read this book and realized what had happened in South Africa years ago. It had vivid detailed throughout the book that the reader could really imagine. In a lot of parts throughout this book there were a lot suspense when I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen during the raids but at the same time I was putting myself in Johannes (the main characters) shoes and I felt horrible. I couldn’ ...more
Patricia Douglas
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kaffir Boy provided me with a much needed education about apartheid. I will never understand how people can so savagely treat other human beings. Mark is a survivor in a world that seems impossible to survive. Apartheid and those who endorsed it are repulsive, but sadly are among those who repress others out of fear, ignorance, or some purported religious belief. Kaffir Boy was difficult to read and made me ashamed of fellow humans. Mark is also inspiring in his ability to strive for something b ...more
Kelsey Hanson
As someone who has only a bare basics knowledge of the mechanics of apartheid, this book was definitely eye-opening. This book is both inspiring and heatbreaking. It also gives a lot of insight into major global issues like poverty and racism and the factors that feed these issues like education, birth control (or lacktherof) and tribal traditions. This book was quite moving and I think it's timely that I read it in 2015. It gives a certain amount of insight into racial issues and allows me to l ...more
Nov 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book was rather interesting. It was mostly boring and black and white for most of it, some parts were interesting and entertaining but it wasn't a good book for high schoolers and younger teens. Some parts were easily exaggerated and it is remarkable how he remembers all these moments when he was 5 or 7 years old in such detail.
Dec 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I read it when I was 13 and just starting to get intrested in my South African roots. It's amazing yes it was an autbiography but it felt even more personal it felt like I was reading his diary.
Feb 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-group, memoir
Horrifyingly graphic view of the world of apartheid. It was hard to keep reading, but it is an important book.
A very disturbing and moving account of growing up black and extremely poor in the township (ghetto) of Alexandra near Johannesburg in South Africa. The brutality is of a magnitude that hardly seems survivable, and the point is that many black people don't survive it. The great majority of this brutality is committed black against black, but the whole system was set up and orchestrated by the former white founders and leaders and the then current government of apartheid South Africa. The aparthe ...more
Peter Hutt Sierra
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Maybe its the fact that this is my second time reading the book or maybe its the fact that I read it all in one overnight sitting, but this book just didn't sit with me as well as I expected it to. I suspect that the first time around I would have given it 3 stars.

Kaffir Boy is the story of how Mark Mathabane grew up in the absolutely hellish slum of Alexandra in apartheid South Africa. The first two parts of the book which describe his childhood and school years are quite enjoyable. The third p
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"Kaffir Boy" was written in the late 80's. Realized - in planning a trip to South Africa, that we had the book on our shelves. It was and apparently still is, on many high school English required reading lists. It is a true report of what growing up under apartheid was like for Blacks.

Mark was the oldest of 7 children born to an overworked mother who wanted her children to have an education - and a father who still believed in the tribal ways of raising children, being a husband and existing und
Perry Nathanson
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobiography
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane is an autobiography about a black boy who grows up in Apartheid South Africa in the 1960s and 70s. Johannes, the title character, grows up in incredible poverty and endures unimaginable humiliation at the hands of white people and gang members. (Kaffir was an insulting way to refer to black people.) Influenced by extremely strong women, his mother and grandmother, he was encouraged to get an education, which wasn’t an easy thing for someone in his situation to do. Hi ...more
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LHS_Saucey Kids : Kaffir Boy 12 11 Nov 25, 2018 10:45PM  
Getting Started 13 26 Aug 10, 2013 12:00PM  
Around the World: South Africa - Kimberly Recommends Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane 1 9 Jan 04, 2012 04:32PM  

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Mark Mathabane (born Johannes Mathabane) is an author, lecturer, and former collegiate tennis player.

Dr. 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 best-sellers list and to No. 1 on the Washingt
“Voracious reading was like an anesthesia, numbing me to the harsh life around me.” 11 likes
“I think my mother's and Granny's storytelling had had the same effect upon me when a child, as the reading of books: my mind was stimulated, my creativity encouraged.” 8 likes
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