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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Books about growing up in apartheid South Africa

I (Jenny) just finished 2 books by Mark Mathabane, a black South African who grew up under apartheid in South Africa. These books are amazing, heartbreaking, shocking, sickening, and life changing.

Kaffir Boy is Mark's autobiography. From Publishers Weekly "In this powerful account of growing up black in South Africa, a young writer makes us feel intensely the horrors of apartheid. Living illegally in a shanty outside Johannesburg, Johannes (renamed Mark) Mathabane and his illiterate family endured the heartbreak and hopelessness of poverty and the violence of sadistic police and marauding gangs. He describes his drunken father's attempts to inculcate his tribal beliefs and to prevent his son from getting an education, the one means by which he might escape from the ghetto. Encouraged by his determined mother and grandmother, Mathabane taught himself to read English and play tennis, and, through the assistance of U.S. tennis star Stan Smith and his own efforts and intelligence, obtained a tennis scholarship from a South Carolina college in 1978. Now he is a freelance writer in New York. In the course of relating his inspiring story, he explains the anger and hate that his country's blacks feel toward white people and the inevitability of their rebellion against the Afrikaner government."

African Women, Three Generations are the stories of Mark's sister, mother and grandmother. From Mark Mathabane's website - "This book tells the true life stories of Mark's mother (Geli), grandmother (Ellen), and sister Florah. All are members of the Tsonga tribe of South Africa and are married under the custom of "lobola," where the man purchases his bride from the bride's parents. These women suffer horrendous abuse at the hands of the men they love and from apartheid, but their strength of will, patience, faith and indomitable spirits help them triumph over adversity."

Before we left for South Africa the first time, Lincoln and I did some research and reading about South Africa. We learned what we could about the history of South Africa while living in the US. Then when we lived in South Africa and met people and heard stories and visited people in extreme poverty, we learned a little more.

But these books have really opened my eyes to what apartheid was like. These books take you into the living hell that black South Africans had to endure under apartheid. The descriptions of severe abuse, neglect, starvation and horror that the children especially had to endure will haunt me for the rest of my life. I know that there is so much more to learn, I have just scratched the surface. I don't think I'll every truly understand what the people of South Africa have been through, no matter how much reading I do or how much time I spend there.

I would highly recommend both of these books for anyone who would like to have a better understanding of apartheid. I do want to give a warning though, both books contain bad language and difficult to read and graphic descriptions of abuse and violence.

Mark Mathabane has also written other books, I plan to read Kaffir Boy in America next.

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