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“Kaffir Boy” Author Mark Mathabane Delivers Inspiring Lecture to Dublin High School Students

May 25, 2017

DUBLIN, CA–Mark Mathabane, author of Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming Of Age in Apartheid South Africa, visited Dublin High School today during fifth period to deliver a truly inspiring, captivating, and thought-provoking lecture at the Center for Performing Arts and Education. Mr. Mathabane stopped by Dublin High School before flying to South Africa, where Kaffir Boy is being adapted into a feature film (There Lies Hope) scheduled to be released this fall.

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In Kaffir Boy, Mr. Mathabane employs simple yet powerful narrative to describe his experiences growing up in Alexandra, a town outside Johannesburg, during the apartheid. The novel explores themes of segregation, xenophobia, and strength in the face of continued oppression. Since its publication in 1986, Kaffir Boy has been published in more than a dozen different languages and resounded with readers worldwide. A New York Times bestseller, it was the recipient of the prestigious Christopher Award, and is on the American Library Association’s List of Outstanding Books for the College-Bound and Lifelong Learners.

“I was introduced to Kaffir Boy by former DHS AP Language teacher Kate MacDonald,” said Sara Hollison, who has been teaching English 10 Advanced at Dublin High School for the past 10 years. “Mrs. MacDonald loved the novel, but no longer had room for it in her curriculum. I read the novel and fell in love with it, so I started teaching it that year…[which was] around 8 years ago.”

Kaffir Boy is now one of the core texts in Dublin High English 10 Advanced classes, and has left a profound impact on students’ perspectives over the years, inspiring them to start DHS chapters of organizations like Room to Read and Free the Slaves on campus.

Sophomore Logan Bowie was so moved by Kaffir Boy’s message that he personally reached out to Mr. Mathabane via email earlier this year. “I think that his story is so beautiful,” said Bowie. “The way that he dealt with what he was given and turned it into the best possible outcome for anyone that was in his situation… Mr. Mathabane is an embodiment of why education matters.”

To everyone’s surprise and excitement, Bowie’s email eventually resulted in a response from Mr. Mathabane himself. “The response to Logan’s initial inquiry was positive and inviting, so I was hopeful that the event could happen,” said English 10 Advanced teacher Erin Vallejo, who, along with Ms. Hollison, was one of the main coordinators for the event. “Once we knew he was willing to present at DHS… we didn’t want to miss this opportunity! It really came down to funding and scheduling, which all worked out in the end thanks to generous donations from DHS PFSO, DPIE, Dublin Rotary, Red Cross Club, FMP Club, and DHS Leadership.”

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The main theme of Mr. Mathabane’s lecture at DHS was our common humanity: rising above our differences and treating each other with respect and unconditional love. He told an audience of enthralled students they were among “the luckiest of young people in the world”, reminding them to be thankful for the comforts they had. “It was tough to have hope in hell,” he said, as he described some of his difficult and brutal experiences during his childhood in Alexandra, a “ghetto” outside Johannesburg which he referred to as a “world of pain, suffering, and despair”.

Mr. Mathabane repeatedly stressed the importance of education through personal experience, and credited his mother for encouraging him towards the path of literacy. He warned students against xenophobia, urging them to become a global citizen to ensure the “collective survival” of all creeds and cultures, and stressing that racial and cultural differences “need not inspire hate and fear, but are the lifeblood of a vibrant and diverse society.” He powerfully concluded by advising students to “dare to be different” and fulfill their potential, encouraging young women in particular to “strive, achieve, and fight the odds”.

05-On_StageMr. Mathabane also answered questions from students in a short Q&A session during seventh period. When asked if there were any experiences from his childhood that he regretted not including in Kaffir Boy, due to fear of censorship or for personal reasons:

“Kaffir Boy is as raw as I could have written it. I was young and in the midst of one of the most painful periods of my life, because I was alone in America and my family was thousands of miles away… The regime was pressurizing me not to speak up and to humanize apartheid, so they confiscated all of the letters I was writing to my family. I believed I would never see my family again, so I thought, ‘Let me have as authentic a record as I can.’

“So I put just about everything I could remember in that book, and people asked me, ‘How did you recollect? How did you remember things with such vividness?’
The way the brain and memory works is very interesting. We all remember certain episodes in our lives that are seminal or pivotal, things that you can never forget. For me, there were four: the police raids, my mother dragging me to school, my contemplation of suicide at age 10, and when I went into the white world for the first time. These episodes acted like a key… I found the key to the room in my mind and unlocked it, and all the memories deeper inside started coming to the surface.

When asked how difficult it was for him to relive those painful experiences when writing the novel:

“The one thing that was exceptionally hard to put down — and I’m glad I did, despite the controversy it created — was the episode where I described, very graphically, how some of my friends were forced to prostitute themselves for food. I remember because when I was talking to my editor about whether I should include it or not, I had to give reasons why I felt it was important. Only by knowing about these problems in the world can we combat them effectively, no matter how difficult it was for me to write.”

01-Intro_Hollison_VallejoDuring his visit to DHS, Mr. Mathabane was received as an Honorary Gael, and patiently signed copies of Kaffir Boy and took pictures with students. He specifically addressed a copy to the Dublin Public Library, sending his best wishes, along with the message that “knowledge is power”, and repeatedly urged students to utilize and appreciate this valuable community resource.

“The student, staff, and community reaction to Mr. Mathabane speaking on campus has been awesome,” said Ms. Vallejo. “We love that this opportunity is a reality for our students.”

“He has overcome extreme adversity and has managed to maintain a strong faith in humanity,” Ms. Hollison concluded. “He has inspired me and many of my students to make this world a better place for all.”

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