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Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  14,889 ratings  ·  752 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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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  14,889 ratings  ·  752 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 detail
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
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
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
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
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
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
In KAFFIR BOY, Mark Mathabane writes an "in-your-face' memoir of his youth during apartheid in 1960's-1970's South Africa. His eyewitness accounts as a young boy of the racial (and non-racial) injustices and violence towards black men, women and children were horrific and disturbing. His memories of the abject poverty and squalor his family was forced to live in were hair-raising, and at times, revolting, especially the incidents with the nightsoil collectors and children floating toy "boats" in ...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
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.
Clare Grové
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, audiobooks-2019
"Audible hopes that you have enjoyed this programme".
'Enjoy' is certainly not my experience of this autobiography. How can one 'enjoy' hearing about atrocities and abuses committed against your fellow human beings in the land of your birth? A more fitting line for me would be "Audible hopes that you were moved by this programme".

I have learned more about the daily life existence of black people in South Africa in the 18½ hours of this audiobook than I have in my 42 year life span living in the
Rebecca Graham
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
I feel bad, but Kaffir Boy is the South African version of Angela’s Ashes & the fictional version of Series of Unfortunate Events, both of which I disliked. I gave 3 stars instead of 2 because I think that I’m supposed to think it’s better. part of my problem is that I read Born A Crime by Trevor Noah first, which is also about apartheid and is amazing. Kaffir Boy is from the 1980s about the Black author during apartheid, while Born A Crime is from a few years ago about Trevor Noah’s plight as a ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was tough to get through- especially the first part. I had to put it down multiple times because it was so heavy. That being said, a very eye opening story. The remainder of the book was much easier to get through and more enjoyable!
Orazie Slayton
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
a wonderful book about a young man determined to succeed in spite of everything around him. Very inspiring
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
Mindy McAdams
The first half (or maybe two-thirds) was much more interesting than the last part of the book, where the author seems to be dragging things out as he waits and hopes to get a scholarship to a U.S. university. As tennis became more prominent in the book -- as part of the author's plan to escape apartheid South Africa -- my interest waned.

That said, I was very interested in the story from the beginning up until after the account of the Soweto riots of 1976, when black schoolchildren were massacred
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
Jonathan Guerrero
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book Kaffir Boy is a good book to read, It felt like I could understand most parts of the book like the struggle for money they had. I feel like in this book the two biggest problems that occurred were racism and poverty which was the reason they were treated like they were. He was punished frequently in school for his parent not being able to make payments but at the same time, he was in the top of his class. I also felt inspired by the dedication he put into his learning, which I wish I wo ...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.
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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

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