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Coetzee’s “Disgrace”, Fugard’s “Master Harold and the Boys”, Mathabane’s “Kaffir Boy” Essay

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2021

Introduction

The books Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, Master Harold and the Boys by A. Fugard, and Kaffir Boy by M. Mathtabane depict the apartheid era and its impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. All three novels reveal the extreme racism that lay at the foundation of the South African apartheid. While blacks were the overwhelming majority in terms of population, they were the victims of cruel oppression and deprivation by the white minority rulers.

The apartheid, however, had far-reaching and boundary-spanning consequences. The three books unveil the aftermath that both populations faced. Unable to protect their families from oppression, the white population of South Africans also suffered. In this essay, I compare and contrast the works by Coetzee, Fugard, and Mathtaban. The three authors agree that the apartheid had a negative effect on the entire South African population. However, they differ on the consequences of the effect.

Main Text

The books under analysis are based on real life events, but only Kaffir Boy is autobiographical. Each book tracks the effect of apartheid in the different elements of everyday life. For example, Coetzee’s Disgrace is a life story about a professor who is deprived of his chance to protect his dignity and resist racial oppression. David Lurie is a white professor at Cape Technical University in South Africa accused of seducing one of his students.

As a consequence, he is dismissed from his position. Lurie teaches a romantic literature but he is dissatisfied with his job. The events take place in post-apartheid Africa when a white man like Lurie experiences extreme violence and revenge because of his color of skin and nationality. Coetzee tells about two opposite types of white people: white rulers and oppressors who established this regime and innocent white people like Lurie and his daughter who teach and educate black population.

Actually, Lurie belongs to both types of white people a snob involved in wrong doing , and a victim of violence and racial envy. According to Coetzee, some Afrikaners and blacks were convinced that the system’s immortality was the architect and officialdom of the South African apartheid. The apartheid state was a structure of laws and security measures, and divisions of people and land under separate development. The manner in which the apartheid state was put into effect indicated a belief that a lasting society of this type could be maintained.

In contrast to Disgrace, both Kaffir Boy and Master Harold and the Boys depict events through the eyes of boys influenced by racial oppression and discrimination. Hally, the main character of Master Harold and the Boys, depict elements biracial envy and racial differences in his friendship with two black friends. The author depicts that this is unequal union between a white boy ironically called “Master Harold” and two black servants, Sam and Willie.

A real value of friendship and relations between the friends unveiled when Hally’s father returns from hospital and Hally. Overwhelmed with anger and anxiety, hurt his friends. He demands that black boys call him “Master Harold” because of his social position and racial superiority. At the end of the book, Hally understands his mistake but it is impossible to change the situation. In contrast to Disgrace and Master Harold, Kaffir Boy tackles the topic of police brutality and poverty that affected the lower classes in South Africa. Mathtabane says that this is precisely the way in which the apartheid system has been maintained.

The perpetual system is a vast structure of oppressive laws, which established and implemented the absolute power and privilege, both economically and politically, of the white minority. It had legitimacy because it was supported by the military and the police force. In effect, it became an internal colonial system of the most ruthless kind. Coetzee states that it is difficult for the white population to find its place in post-apartheid Africa (Coetzee, 48). For instance, Lurie and his daughter Lucy do not believe the authorities and police: Lucy comments:

‘The reason is that, as far as I am concerned, what happened to me is a purely private matter. In another time, in another place it might be held to be a public matter. But in this place, at this time, it is not. It is my business, mine alone.’ / ‘This place being what ?’ / ‘This place being South Africa’ (Coetzee, 56).

This passage shows that police and authorities are unable to protect innocent population from oppression and violence and maintain social order. During the post-apartheid era, it is difficult to control the black population and their struggle against whites. Also, the majority of blacks and whites do not believe in police and their social function as keepers of civil order and peace. Lucy wants to keep it private because she is sure that police and authorities are unable to maintain order and punish her offenders. In this case, the best solution is to keep it private and avoid social blame and mockery.

The main similarity in all the three stories is that the three authors criticize the brutality of apartheid and its devastating impact on the innocent population, both black and white. The white minority could not maintain its racist dictatorship indefinitely on its own and had to seek alliances across the lines of segregation. It was in the urban townships that the government made significant efforts to divide the black population and to win either the active or the tacit collaboration of a section of it. There were attempts by the Africans to form a union to stand up against the white supremacy. The shift in attitude by the apartheid regime from relaxing the limits placed on a black petty bourgeoisie to allowing some proliferation of its opportunities had the aim of tying this sector in with the white economy (Mathtabane, 52).

As awareness of the crisis in the apartheid system caused the white minority regime to search for allies and ways of dividing the black majority, the impact of the crisis conditions produced serious divisions and problems among the whites themselves. The South African whites had never been a monolithic group (Fugard, 26). Disgrace is the most impressive story portraying how apartheid ruined the lives and destinies of people and their families. David Lurie’s daughter is raped because of racial differences and the false accusations against her father. Coetzee shows that innocent people cannot protect themselves from racial differences, and thus become victims of false values and an apartheid regime.

Aside from the differences between the Afrikaans and English sections of the population, the class interests of the rising industrial, financial, and commercial bourgeoisie tended to separate from those of the traditional rural settlements. A white working class, although heavily tainted with racism in the job reservation areas, had growing numbers who found common ground in the trade unions with nonwhites against white employers.

Conclusion

In sum, the more realistic South African policy makers realized that forms of integrated development, not rigid separate development, were mandatory for the country. The apartheid’s crisis is based on the rise of the militant black struggle against the racist system that affected the life of most whites. An erosion of the sense of security, and of living off the fat of the land, which is felt by all of the colonial rulers in the African countries that have now won their liberation, is occurring in South Africa.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Coetzee's "Disgrace", Fugard's "Master Harold and the Boys", Mathabane's "Kaffir Boy"." September 3, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/coetzees-disgrace-fugards-master-harold-and-the-boys-mathabanes-kaffir-boy/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Coetzee's "Disgrace", Fugard's "Master Harold and the Boys", Mathabane's "Kaffir Boy"'. 3 September.

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