Kaffir Boy

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Monday, July 08, 2002 at 11:46AM :

In Reply to: Re: Kaffir, darling... posted by panch from pool0153.cvx20-bradley.dialup.earthlink.net ( on Monday, July 08, 2002 at 10:54AM :

Preface of

Kaffir Boy



The above message can be found written on larger-than-life signs staked on every road leading into Alexandra, where I was born and raised, or for that matter, into any other black ghetto of South Africa. It is meant to dissuade white people from entering the black world. As a result, more than 90 percent of white South Africans go through a lifetime without seeing firsthand the inhuman conditions under which blacks have to survive.

Yet the white man of South Africa claims to the rest of the world that he knows what is good for black people and what it takes for a black child to grow up to adulthood. He vaunts aloud that "his blacks" in South Africa are well fed and materially better off under the chains of apartheid than their liberated brothers and sisters in the rest of Africa. But, in truth, these claims and boasts are hollow.

The white man of South African certainly does not know me. He certainly does not know the conditions under which I was born and had to live for eighteen years. So my story is intended to show him with words a world he would otherwise not see because of a sign and a conscience racked with guilt and to make him feel what I felt when he contemptuously called me a "Kaffir boy."

(The word Kaffir is of Arabic origin. It means 'infidel.' It is the South African equivalent of the term nigger.)

At the writing of this book, the ghetto of Alexandra had just been saved from extinction by Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, and a group of clergymen. When the reprieve came, over half of Alexandra had already been destroyed, for the ghetto had been on death row since 1962 when the South African government first decreed that it had to go because it occupied land onto which whites wished to expand.

The remains of Alexandra can be found about ten miles north of Johannesburg. You will not mistake those remains for anything else. They occupy a one-square-mile pit constantly shrouded by a heavy blanket of smog. It is the only such pit in an enclave of spacious, fresh-aired, verdant white suburbs sporting such melodious names as Northcliff, Rosebank, Lower Houghton, Bramley, Killarney and Edenvale.

The Alexandra of my childhood and youth was a shantytown of mostly shacks, a few decent houses, lots of gutters and lots of unpaved, potholed streets with numbers from First to Twenty-third. First Avenue was where Indians—the cream of Alexandra's quarantined society—lived, behind their sell-everything stores and produce stalls, which were the ghetto's main shopping center. Indians first came to South Africa in 1860, as indentured servants, to work the sugarcane fields of Natal.

Second, Third and Fourth avenues were inhabited mostly by Coloureds, the mulatto race which came into being nine months after white settlers arrived in South Africa in 1652—without women. The rest of Alexandra's streets were filled by black faces, many of them as black as coal, full-blooded Africans. Many of these blacks were as poor as church mice. In South Africa, there's a saying that to be black is to be at the end of the line when anything of significance is to be had. So these people were considered and treated as the dregs of society, aliens in the land of their birth. Such labeling and treatment made them an angry and embittered lot.

The Alexandra of my childhood and youth was one of the oldest shantytowns in the Witwatersrand—the area where black miners toil night and day to tear gold from the bowels of the earth so that the white man of South Africa can enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. Many of Alexandra's first settlers came from the tribal reserves, where they could no longer eke out a living, to seek work in the city of gold. Work was plentiful in those days: in mines, factories and white people's homes. As a result, these black pioneers stayed, some bought plots of land, established families and called Alexandra home, sweet home. Many shed their tribal cloth and embraced Western culture, a way of life over 350 years of white oppression had deluded them into believing was better than their own. And so it was that in the mid-1950s Alexandra boasted a population of over one hundred thousand blacks, Coloureds and Indians—all squeezed into a space of one square mile.

My parents, a generation or so removed from these earliest settlers of Alexandra, had, too, come from the tribal reserves. My father came from what is now the so-called independent homeland of the Vendas in the northwestern corner of the Transvaal. Venda's specious independence (no other country but South Africa recognizes it) was imposed by the Pretoria regime in 1979, thus at the time making three (Transkei and Bophuthatswana were the other two) the number of these archipelagos of poverty, suffering and corruption, where blacks are supposed to exercise their political rights. Since "independence," the Venda people have been under the clutches of the Pretoria-anointed dictator, Patrick Mphephu, who, despite the loss of two elections, continues clinging to power through untempered repression and brutality.

My mother came from Gazankulu, the tribal reserve for the Tsongas in the Northeastern Transvaal. Gazankulu is also being pressured into "independence." My parents met and married in Alexandra. Immediately following marriage, they rented a shack in one of the squalid yards of the ghetto. And in that shack I was born, a few months before sixty-nine unarmed black protesters were massacred—many shot in the back as they fled for safety—by South African policemen during a peaceful demonstration against the pass laws in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960. Pass laws regulate the movement of blacks in so-called white South Africa. And it was the pass laws that, in those not so long ago days of my childhood and youth, first awakened me to the realities of life as a Kaffir boy in South Africa.

-- Lilly
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