My Children My Africa is a novel written by Athol Fugard. It is a play that talks about the rising tensions between Black people and White men who imposed a policy of segregation in South Africa during the 1980s. On this page, you will discover the My Children My Africa summary, the characters, themes, and settings.
The play My Children, My Africa shows the suffering that black South Africans went through during the apartheid era. It does this by telling the story of the friendship of two people: Isabel Dyson, a girl of 18 years from a white school (Camdeboo Girl’s High), and Thami Mbikwana, a 19-year-old black boy from a Black school (Zolile High). The third main character is Mr M, a teacher from Zolile High School.
My Children My Africa Summary
The meeting between Isabel and Thami occurs when Mr. M organizes an interschool debate between Camdeboo and Zolile high schools. It is through Thami and Isabel’s relationship that we come to understand the cruelty of apartheid and the violence of the struggle against it.
The play is also about Mr. M’s ideology that education cannot be sacrificed for political gains. He is a proponent of education as the most powerful tool in the struggle for freedom and equality. “Thami feels constrained by the education system under apartheid, causing him to clash with his teacher, Mr. M, who has more traditional views about life in South Africa.”
By the end of the play, Mr. M is killed, Thami goes into exile, and Isabel makes a promise to the spirit of Mr. M that she will make her life useful.
Act 1 Scene 1: The great debate
Starting with Art 1, Scene 1 of My Children My Africa summary, the play opens with a lively debate between Black learners from Zolile High School and White learners from Camdeboo Girls’ High. Thami Mbikwana and Isabel Dyson are in a heated argument, and Mr M interrupts them to explain what a debate is.
He reads the meaning of the word ‘debate’ from the dictionary. Mr. M reads out the definition of the topic: “In view of essential physical and psychological differences between men and women, there should be correspondingly different educational syllabuses for the two sexes.”
Thami Mbikwana argues that African culture is in ‘great peril’ because of western colonial influence, and he summarizes his ‘shocking’ argument to a wild round of applause from the audience. Isabel Dyson, from Camdeboo High, follows after Thami and says that she respects the principles of traditional African society.
However, Africa can no longer stay in the past, and times have changed. Mr. M calls for a vote by a show of hands and reminds the audience to forget the faces and remember the words when voting. Isabel wins the debate with 24 votes to 17. Mr. M is proud of the audience for listening intelligently. Thami and Isabel became friends immediately.
Act 1 Scene 2: Isabel’s experience
Isabel refects on her experiences at Zolile High. She talks about a place called Brakwater that lies on the edge of Camdeboo which most people just call “the location”. She complains about how ugly it is and says that some people feel that it should be moved some distance away from town.
Not only that, but she also tells of the filth and poverty of Brakwater. The houses there are made of bits of corrugated iron and other scraps; the roads are bad (potholed); and they don’t have electricity or running water. Isabel says she “ended up being damn glad she was born with White skin”.
Isabel struggles to imagine what it would be like to live in such poverty. She describes the depressing classroom environment. Isabel explains that it is not as if she has never had contact with Black people (“contact across the colour line”) because she regularly gossips with her maid in the morning and she also chats with Samuel, a man who delivers medicines for her father.
She reveals that she likes to have conversations about life with Samuel. However, in Brakwater she was an outsider, and though she soon became excited by the new environment, a “new world”, she decided that she wanted more contact with these people to expand her understanding.
She reveals that her expectations were that students in the Black school would be grateful for the White team’s visit, but she is surprised that the forty Black students in the classroom are not grateful.
Act 1: Scene 3: Invitation to the literature quiz
Isabel is alone on stage when Mr. M enters, wiping his head with a handkerchief. He says that he has been looking for her. She calls him Mr. M when greeting him, which makes him happy. He asks her about a “return visit” to his school, and she tells him she would be very excited to do so.
He tells her that he has not come to ask her to debate against one of his students again, but rather to join Thami on a team for a new interschool English literature quiz. Isabel delightedly agrees. She tells Mr. M. that visiting his school has been one of the best things that has ever happened to her because it was an eye-opener to see the school and meet people from the location.
She further explains to Mr. M. how “knowledge has banished fear.” Mr. M tells Isabel that he is determined to get a full university scholarship for Thami.
Act 1 Scene 4: Mr. M’s monologue
Mr. M. begins by talking about Confucius’s ideas on life. He tells about Confucius’ life. He says that his life is divided between the matchbox of his room and the ‘matchbox’ that is his classroom. Furthermore, he stresses the idea that if a person enthusiastically pursues knowledge, he then forgets all sorrows and other worries and anxieties in life.
Mr. M. asserts that he cannot rest easy; his worry cannot be ignored because of what is happening to his people. He recognizes the injustice in his country, and this troubles him greatly.
He describes his situation of ‘constant inner confusion as being like a zoo full of mad, hungry animals. Not only that, but he extends the metaphor to say one of the animals, Hope, has broken out; this, he says, is why he is a teacher—to keep his hope alive.
Act 1 Scene 5: Rehearsal for the literature quiz
In this act of My Children My Africa summary, Mr. M. waits for Thami and Isabel for the competition practice. Isabel rushes in from her hockey match, and Mr. M. asks her about her hockey game and talks expressively about how they lost and how it made her feel like hitting a girl with a hockey stick.
They talk about being ‘bad losers’, with Mr. M. confessing that he too can be petty when he doesn’t win. Isabel thinks Thami is a bad loser, and Mr. M. agrees hesitantly.
Mr. M. asks about Isabel’s relationship with Thami, and it is clear to Isabel that Mr. M. is fshing for information about Thami. Isabel is not prepared to “betray” Thami by talking about him behind his back.
He mentions to Isabel that he is worried about Thami and the riots about to take place there. Isabel encourages Mr. M. to be more open with Thami and to listen to his ideas. Thami enters from a soccer game, and they start rehearsing for the literature quiz.
Continuation: My Children My Africa Summary
Most of the poems that Thami has prepared are about politics. Thami gets to the poem ‘Ozymandias’, which is a symbol of political power. He uses ‘Ozymandias’ to stir up a political discussion. Thami and Mr. M. gets into a serious argument about being part of the freedom movement, vandalism, and lawlessness.
Thami questions Mr. M’s old-fashioned ideas of fghting apartheid. He is angry and says that Mr. M. is out of touch with the way blacks feel, and that young people have run out of patience.
Isabel invites Mr. M. and Thami to her parents’ home for tea.
Mr. M. accepts the invitation for himself and Thami. He does not give Thami a chance to respond. Isabel notices that there is a rift between Thami and Mr. M. You can read: Summary of Faceless by Amma Darko
Act 1 Scene 6: Thami’s talk about his past and the present
Scene six of My Children My Africa summary; Thami portrays himself as an enthusiastic learner, saying how much he loved school and that he wanted to be a doctor so that he could help his people.
His dream of becoming a doctor was expressed in an essay that he wrote in Standard Two. The essay explains how he would make White people pay for his services as a doctor, while Black people would be helped free of charge.
The monologue expresses Thami’s opposition to Bantu Education. He refects on the essay he wrote eight years ago: he no longer wants to be a doctor. In his opinion, he does not need to go to university to know what his people (Africans and Blacks) want. The remedy that is required by his people is freedom.
He no longer thinks that sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher is worthwhile. Thami expresses his view on the annual visits of Mr. David Grobbelaar (Oom Dawie). He does not believe in what Oom Dawie says about the future, as it seems unbelievable when compared to the current situation.
Thami seems to have gained some enlightenment (p. 81, We have woken up at last”). The monologue closes with an emphatic rejection of Bantu Education.
Act 2 Scene 1: Thami’s withdrawal from the quiz
Act 2 of My Children My Africa summary; Isabel is ready for the literature practice and has brought study material with her. As she reads her notes about the three Brontë sisters, she realises that Thami is not paying attention to her. Thami indicates that he needs to talk.
Thami struggles to say what he has in mind, but she quickly guesses that he is going to say that he is pulling out of the competition.
When Isabel asks whether they should break up their competition team, he says yes. She explains that she has been feeling strange for the past few weeks—a feeling that something was going to go wrong.
Continuation: Summary of My Children My Africa summary
Thami explains to Isabel that the boycott they are about to embark on is called ‘Isiqalo’, the beginning. He further explains to Isabel that they cannot be together because the comrades demand that Blacks keep minimal contact with Whites. He tells Isabel that the strike will continue until the authorities stop Bantu education.
Isabel does not understand why comrades can decide about other people’s friendships. Mr. M. enters and hears the conversation between Thami and Isabel. Thami says he rejects Bantu education, and Mr. M. says that he has been sabotaging Bantu education by ‘liberating’ his learners’ minds. He refers to Thami’s eloquence as an example of his own way of fighting Bantu education.
He tells Mr. M. that he (Mr. M.) has only taught him to whisper, but his comrades have taught him to shout.
Mr. M. emphasizes the ‘power of words’ to Thami. He argues that words are better than stones and petrol bombs. In addition, he says the difference between a man and an animal is that a man thinks and thinks with words, whereas an animal cannot think.
It needs a man to tell it what to do.
Mr. M. tells Thami that he has been asked to give a list of the names of all those who are taking part in the boycotts. Thami tells Mr. M. that he tried to stop the comrades at the meeting from labeling Mr. M. a stooge and spy. Thami challenges Mr. M. to write Thami Mbikwana’s name first on the list that he will give to the Department of Education.
Act 2 Scene 2: The start of the boycott
In this My Children My Africa Summary, Mr. M tries to walk to school amid barricades, police roadblocks, shouting, and smoke. He stops at a corner and sees a child from Standard Six writing a political message on the wall. The child asks him earnestly about his spelling.
Act 2 Scene 3: Mr. M. rings the bell
The window glasses break, and Mr. M rings the bell wildly again. Thami appears and tells Mr. M to stop ringing the bell because it irritates and provokes the “comrades.” Mr. M. picks up his dictionary and the stone. He tells Thami that the dictionary holds the whole English language, whereas “stone” is just one word in the English language.
Thami has come to warn Mr. M. that he is in big danger. He told Mr. M that at the previous night’s meeting. Mr. M. has been accused of being an informer since he has given the names of learners to the police.
Thami tries to convince Mr. M. to join the boycott and sign the declaration. Mr. M refuses to join the boycott and says he is willing to die for what he believes in.
Mr. M confesses to Thami that he indeed gave the names and addresses of the political action committee, or “community of strangers from the North.” He was offered money for the information, but he refused to take it.
Mr. M. is jealous that his comrades have taken his learners (“children”) away, and he misses them at school. He indicates that teaching children is all he lives for. Mr. M tells Thami about the trip to Wapadsberg, where he was inspired to become a teacher. Mr. M’s teacher encouraged him to take a journey to Africa through reading.
He tells the story of an Ethiopian tribesman (poverty in Africa). Mr. M laments that the world wastes the future of the children of Africa. More window glasses break. He breaks away from Thami, rings the bell furiously, and goes outside to confront the mob. Mr. M. is killed.
Act 2 Scene 4: Thami says goodbye to Isabel
Thami breaks the news to Isabel that he is leaving town and is going away for good. Isabel is angry and thinks Thami has called her to say something about the senseless killing of Mr. M.
In the newspaper, it is stated that Mr. M. was struck by an iron rod over his head before being set on fire. Isabel struggles to understand why Mr. M. was killed. Thami tells Isabel that Mr. M. was an informant and that all members of the political action committee have been detained.
Thami explains to Isabel that Mr. M. was not a spy because he was not paid, but just an informer because he just gave the information once. Isabel calls Mr. M’s death a ‘murder’ because the mob killed one defenseless man. Thami calls Mr. M’s death an act of “self-defense” because Mr. M betrayed “the people,” “comrades,” who were in a “fight for freedom.”
Five men end up in detention because Mr. M. Thami explains ‘treason’ to Isabel (people detained, found guilty, and hanged without a fair trial). Thami puts it to Isabel that it is ‘her laws’ that make Black people desperate and turn into ‘mad mobs’.
Isabel asks Thami if he was present when Mr. M was killed and if he tried to stop the mob. Thami regrets not trying hard to let Mr. M know his true feelings (that he was involved in politics and that he loved him).
Thami tells Isabel that he is leaving the country to join the movement.
Isabel wants a place to go where she can spiritually connect to Mr. M, and Thami suggests she go to Wapadsberg Pass.
Wapadsberg Pass was a special place for Mr. M. It is where he decided on his career.
Act 2 Scene 5: Isabel visits Wapadsberg Pass
Wapadsberg Pass is signifcant because it is the place where Mr. M. decided to become a teacher. Isabel says that the old-fashioned way of paying last respects to a deceased person would be to bring flowers and put them on the grave; instead, she chose to bring a promise. She says Mr. M. will have more than enough flowers in the spring.
She promises Mr. M. to make her life useful and to make him proud.
Furthermore, she even calls herself Mr. M’s child. Not onlu that, she promises Mr. M. that the future belongs to the youth.
My Children My Africa Characters
Check out the characters in this interesting play. My children my Africa characters are:
- Isabel Dyson
- Mr. Pienaar
- Samuel (the delivery man)
- Auntie (Maid)
- Miss Brockway
- Renee Vermass
- Cathy Bullard
- Mrs Makatini
- Mrs Magada
Themes of My Children My Africa
My Children My Africa themes are:
The play opens with two Black characters and one white learner from Camdeboo Girl’s High School. Isabel and the two other girls from Camdeboo think that because they are White and privileged, they will teach the Black learners from Zolile High School a thing or two.
Little do they know that the Black learners are also up to the task.
Thami and Mr. M are both proud of their race and their racial heritage, even if they have different ideologies about apartheid.
Towards the end of this scene, there is a beautiful friendship developing between Thami and Isabel. Though separated by race and gender, it seems at the beginning of the play that they will beat the odds and form not only a successful team, but a friendship that will last for a long time.
3. Tradition and culture
During the debate, both Thami and Isabel referred to tradition and culture in their closing arguments. Isabel says one cannot be chained to the past. Thami jokingly refers to women as belonging at home. Mr. M. argues that the tradition in African culture demands that the young be under the authority of their elders.
4. Social class distinction
Isabel describes the Brakwater location and how ugly it is to visitors. Instead of wanting to improve the services and amenities in the township, the mayor and White residents of Camdeboo just want to move it so that it can’t be seen. None of them is concerned with justice, fairness, or equality. Isabel initially agrees with them.
She says, “To be fair to old Pienaar, he has got a point, you know.” “Our town is very pretty.” However, as she spends time in Brakwater, she comes to recognise it as a place where real people who she cares about live and not just an ‘eyesore’.
Apartheid created a lot of inequality between the different races in South Africa. Isabel’s first monologue supports the theme of inequality because she describes the glaring differences between Camdeboo and Brakwater: Our town is very pretty. We’ve got a lot of nicely restored National Monument houses and buildings. The location is quite an eyesore by comparison…’ (Brakwater)
6. Living a meaningful life
Isabel is given a chance to see how Black people love. She is surprised that Zolile High School learners look at her as an equal, not as a superior, as she earlier thought.
She is eager to know how the Brakwater people live in all their squalor and poverty.
This helps her to develop a new perspective on life; she is excited that she now has an opportunity to learn more about Black people.
7. Generational conflict
Isabel is surprised that Mr. M has not asked Thami if he wants to take part in the literature quiz taking place in Grahamstown. Mr. M. claims that unquestioning respect for authority is part of traditional African culture. Thami disagrees. He feels that Mr. M’s views are old-fashioned, and he needs to change with the times. He wants Mr. M to take him seriously, ask for his opinions, and really listen to what he has to say.
8. Justice and Injustice
Mr. M’s monologue portrays the frustrations that he has with injustice in South Africa. He believes that education can be used as a strong weapon against the injustice of Apartheid, but the South African situation is like a zoo where mad and unruly animals are kept. One of the animals, Hope, breaks free.
Mr. M asks Isabel about Thami’s secrets and problems, and she is not willing to talk about Thami behind his back. Mr. M admits that he’s worried about Thami starting trouble when he’s outside of school. He says that he has heard dangerous and unsettling whispers about trouble coming to the Brakwater location, and he asks Isabel to tell him if she’s heard Thami talking about such things.
Just before Thami enters, Mr. M apologises to Isabel (forgive me, Isabel). I am just overly anxious, and I plead with Isabel not to tell Thami about this conversation. Mr. M realizes that he has made a mistake and that Isabel is not going to betray Thami.
10. The Nature of Justice
Thami denies that Mr. M’s killing was murder but argues that the apartheid system does not provide proper justice for Black people. He further argues that the mob was justified in killing Mr. M. Isabel believes that it was an injustice for the mob to kill Mr. M, a defenseless man.
11. Words versus violence
Mr. M. believes that using words is the best way to bring about political and social change in education. He believes that violence (using stones) is not the way. Thami argues against the use of the word “murder” because Mr. M was killed in self-defense because he betrayed his people by going to the police, and this put everyone in greater danger.
Mr. M. does not stop ringing the bell even after Thami has warned him that his life is in danger. He refuses to join the boycotts and to sign the declaration.
The setting of My Children My Africa Summary took place at Zolile High School in South Africa in 1984.
My Children My Africa Summary questions and answers
What is the name of the author?
The name of the author is Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard. He is a South African writer.
Who is the protagonist in My Children My Africa?
Answer: The protagonist is Isabel Dyson.
What is the setting of My Children My Africa?
The setting of the novel ‘My Children My Africa’ took place at Zolile High School in South Africa in 1984.
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