Grade 11: Novel
by Athol Fugard
• Born 11 June 1932
• South African (born in Middleburg, Eastern Cape) play writer, novelist, actor and director who writes about
South Africa.
• He is best known for his political plays opposing the South African system of apartheid.
• He was 26 years old when he started writing Tsotsi, his only novel.
The novel provides insight into street gangs, crime and life in the townships (this one unnamed) of Apartheid
South Africa in the late 1950s. It tells the story of a ruthless gangster and his gang of misfits who stalk the
streets causing pain, bloodshed and fear wherever they go. This narrative takes place over a period of three days
in his life. The third person narrator (omniscient) gives us an inside view of the psyche and thoughts of each
character. We can understand and sympathise with the points of view of many characters.
Tsotsi (an informal word for a young, violent criminal) is the leader of the gang and he kills easily without
pangs of conscience. He shows no emotion and no compassion; he is ruled by instinct and the fear he instils in
others. He lives only in the present, having repressed any memory of his past life, including his name.
The story begins on a Friday evening with the gang killing a miner, Gumboot Dhlamini, for his pay packet.
They return to Soekie’s shebeen/tavern and Boston (the intelligent gang member) pressurises Tsotsi to tell the
gang his real name and something about his past. Tsotsi initially ignores Boston but eventually, after numerous
questions about his soul, Tsotsi lashes out violently. He beats and kicks Boston close to death. Tsotsi runs away,
desperately trying to escape the image of a beaten and broken Boston. Boston’s words haunt him – telling him
that one day he would feel empathy for another human being and he would not know what to do with those
feelings. When he finally stops running he finds himself in a neighbouring white suburb and chooses to rest in a
grove of bluegum trees. Tsotsi crosses paths with a woman carrying a shoebox. He plans to attack her – she
realises he is a tsotsi and pushes the box into his hands and she flees. The box contains a newborn baby.
In an ironic twist of fate Tsotsi finds himself responsible for a baby who is utterly hopeless and vulnerable. He
does not kill the baby and takes it back to his room in the township. (Tsotsi knows what it feels like to be
abandoned and alone – he was orphaned at age 10 and forced to join a street gang in order to survive.) For the
first time he begins to feel compassion and concern for the baby and realises that he cannot allow the baby to be
forsaken as he once was. He decides to keep the baby and find a way to take care of it.
Tsotsi’s journey to redemption and forgiveness begins – he does not tell anyone about the baby. At first he tries
to care for the baby on his own, feeding it condensed milk and hiding it in the ruins. But the baby is ill and
needs the care of a mother. Tsotsi forces Miriam, a woman with a baby of her own, to feed the baby. We see his
character evolving – he asks for help and places trust in another person. His determination to save the baby
overrides his rules of personal survival. He begins to distance himself for the other gang members and allows
his next victim, the crippled Morris Tshabalala, to live. He takes Boston back to his room and makes amends.
The novel focuses on the internal conflict – the story in Tsotsi’s head and heart. He changes – he takes good
care of the baby and gradually becomes humanised. Boston directs Tsotsi to God in an attempt to explain his
change in character. Tsotsi visits the Church of Christ the Redeemer and meets Isaiah who invites him to an
evening church service. Tsotsi hides the baby in the ruins. In a tragic twist the bulldozers are sent in to clear the
ruins and debris near Tsotsi’s shack, the morning after he has rediscovered himself as David Madondo. He dies
in a desperate attempt to save the baby form being crushed by the walls as they are broken down by the
• Exposition – We meet Tsotsi and his gang on a
Friday evening in an unnamed township,
probably Sophiatown.
• Inciting incident – Tsotsi chooses a victim and
the gang robs and murders Gumboot Dhlamini.
• Rising Action – Tsotsi assaults Boston; he
saves the baby and Morris
• Climax – Tsotsi remembers his past – he
names the baby David
• Falling Action – Tsotsi breaks all ties with the
gang. He finds Boston and goes to church.
• Resolution – Tsotsi has regained his identity.
He dies trying to save the baby.
Chapter 1 - It is Friday evening. Tsotsi, Boston, Butcher and Die Aap sit in Tsotsi’s room drinking beer in
silence, waiting for Tsotsi to specify what job they will do that night. Boston has been passing the time with idle
talk. Tsotsi decides they will head to the train station where their unsuspecting victim, Gumboot Dhlamini,
begins to head home to his wife. (Gumboot is a mine-worker from a distant rural area. His wife is awaiting his
return with the money he has earned in the past year. He is a tall, jovial, hard-working and hopeful man.)
Butcher immediately approves of the plan but Boston seems uneasy and queries it before reluctantly accepting.
Tsotsi targets Gumboot for three reasons: he smiled, he wore a flaming red tie, and he bought his ticket with
money from his pay packet. After everyone does their part in the murder and robbery, they leave Gumboot’s
lifeless body on the train to be discovered by the other passengers.
Chapter 2 - Tsotsi, Butcher, Boston, and Die Aap head to Soekie’s tavern after the murder to have a few drinks.
As they start drinking they begin to talk about Boston vomiting after the murder of Gumboot. Boston claims that
the only reason he was sick and the others were not, was because he has decency unlike the rest of them. As the
conversation advances Die Aap and Butcher take Rosie, a girl who was also in Soekie’s tavern, outside to rape
her. When the others leave Boston begins to question Tsotsi about what he feels. This breaks one of Tsotsi’s
rules: never ask questions. Tsotsi is irritated by all the questions about his personal life. Tsotsi eventually has
enough and brutally beats Boston, leaving him in Soekie’s place beaten close to death.
Chapter 3 - After beating Boston, Tsotsi leaves the shebeen and runs through the streets. As he runs he has a
flashback, he sees a boy named Petah being taken away by the police, as he is being taken away he looks down
the street and recognizes Tsotsi as David, his name before he changed it to Tsotsi. Tsotsi does not acknowledge
the fact that Petah recognised him and just continues his game of dice. As Tsotsi lies under a bluegum tree he
begins to hear footsteps. As he hears them come closer, he moves to get a better vantage point and sees a young
woman. As he studies her more he begins to recognise the symptoms of fear and sees that she is carrying a small
parcel and keeps checking over her shoulder. Tsotsi grabs her by one arm and swings her into the darkness of
the trees. As he pins her against the tree she takes the parcel and thrusts it into the hands of Tsotsi and runs off.
The lid slips off and Tsotsi finds himself looking at the face of a young baby boy. He decides to keep the baby.
Chapter 4 - The next morning Tsotsi heads to Cassim’s shop (Ramadoola’s General Dealer) in search of milk
for the baby. Before he gets courage to go up and talk to Cassim he exits and re-enters the store multiple times
waiting for it to empty. He is awkward and embarrassed. Nervously Cassim sends his wife into the back room to
round up their children in case Tsotsi tries to mug them. Tsotsi goes up to the counter and asks to buy some
milk. Cassim sells him a tin of condensed milk and realises that the young man is unable to read the words on
the label. After buying the condensed milk Tsotsi takes the baby back to his room to clean it and feed it. He
feels awe at the realisation that a man can begin his existence in such a state of helpless dependence. After the
baby is clean and fed he takes him to the ruins to hide him. (He does not want his gang members to find it.)
After hiding the baby in the ruins (in the remains of MaRhabatse’s house) Tsotsi begins to remember the
“yellow bitch,” the dog he had when he was a young child. Tsotsi breaks one of his three rules: never ask
questions about the past. For the first time he is curious about the past that he has avoided for so long.
Chapter 5 - Gumboot Dhlamini is buried by Reverend Henry Ransome and the reverend is sorely troubled after
burying another man whose name no-one knows. The cemetery is surrounded by stunted trees and a broken
fence – it is a depressing place. Boston awakes painfully from his state of unconsciousness in the alley where he
was dumped and moves for the first time in almost a day. He is convinced that everything in this life is “utterly
finished”. Butcher and Die Aap begin to talk about Tsotsi beating Boston and begin to wonder what the future
holds for their gang. Tsotsi, Butcher and Die Aap find each other and begin to do what they do on any other
night, sit around and drink waiting for Tsotsi to make the decision of what job they will do. Without Boston’s
stories, conversation ends rather quickly and Tsotsi decides they will head into the city that night. When Boston
taunts a young woman passer-by who is carrying a baby, an idea dawns on Tsotsi. Tsotsi is irritated by their
presence and keeps thinking about the baby, the shoebox and the bluegums.
Chapter 6 - Tsotsi, Butcher and Die Aap wait for the shadows to become long enough so that they can head to
Terminal Place (a busy commercial hub – the bus terminus in the location). When they get to Terminal Place
Tsotsi becomes separated from Die Aap and Butcher. He steps on Morris Tshabalala’s hand – a crippled man
who lost his legs in a work accident –and decides that he will be his target that night. As Morris continues on his
way home he realises that Tsotsi is following him, he hopes that if he continues on his way he will lose Tsotsi
before he has to go through the dark part of his journey. He stops for some food at the Bantu house and then
continues on his way. As he gets to the dark part of his journey he realises that even though he feels like a “halfman” he wants to live. He leaves his money in a pile underneath a light, hoping Tsotsi will just take the money
and leave him alone. When Tsotsi kicks the money away and continues walking towards him, Morris begins to
throw rocks and shout insults in order to defend himself.
Chapter 7 - As Tsotsi follows Morris he begins to realise that he crawls like the “yellow bitch” used to,
dragging his body around since he doesn’t have any legs. Tsotsi chooses Morris because of his ugliness and
deformity. Morris epitomes the ugliness of the world. Tsotsi clearly has a nihilistic view of existence – life is
pointless and human values are worthless. Tsotsi confronts Morris in the street and tells him that he ‘feels’ for
him. After he does this, Morris tells him why he wants to live. After he tells Tsotsi all the reasons he wants to
live, he confronts him about why Tsotsi has to kill him. Tsotsi realises that he doesn’t have to kill him and that
he is able to choose to let him live. Morris tries to share the most beautiful thing he knows, which is a mother’s
love for her child. Tsotsi denies the truth of the statement. He has a long walk back to his room in the township.
He is plagued by thoughts of the baby, Boston, the bluegums and the beggar. He realises that there is no turning
back from these unprecedented experiences of feeding a baby and sparing a man’s life. Tsotsi decides he will
find out who he is and what happened in his past. Exhausted, he curls up and sleeps. Hence the meeting between
the two misfits provides each with a revelation, the dawning of new meaning in their lives.
Chapter 8 - Boston awakes to the sound of church bells and begins to think about his faith in God. Reverend
Ransome is still disturbed by not knowing Gumboot’s name – he prays to God for help. Tsotsi returns to the
ruins to find the baby covered head to toe in ants and instead of leaving it, he cleans the ants off the baby. We
are then taken to Waterworks square where a young mother by the name of Miriam Ngidi waits in the long line
to get to the tap. Miriam is a single mother because her husband, Simon, left and never returned. Her son,
Simon, is six months old. She works as a washerwoman in order to survive. Back in her room she hears a knock
at the door. Tsotsi has followed her. He threatens to kill her baby if she refuses to accompany him. Tsotsi takes
her to his room and forces her to feed the baby. At first she protests that the baby is too dirty. She says that a
bitch would care for its pups better than he has been doing with this baby. This comparison has a strong effect
on Tsotsi and sparks a clear memory of the events that turned him into what he has become. Miriam feeds and
cleans the baby. It is Sunday night and the people of the township are preparing for sleep. However, Tsotsi is
wide awake – another childhood memory has been reawakened and he is reliving the night that changed his life.
Chapter 9 - Tsotsi begins to remember his past; he begins to see his old home and how happy he was living
with his mother. Fugard paints the picture of a loving mother and a protected childhood for the young David.
His mother speaks often about the imminent return of his father, whom David imagines as a friendly, good man.
There is stern grandmother who is sceptical about his man. Eventually the flashback leads him to the events that
happened on the day that his mother was taken to jail by the police in a dompas raid – supposedly to round up
illegals. She tells him to wait at home and not move. His granny arrives and leaves shortly after, again telling
him not to move. As his father returns after being away from the family for a long time, he becomes furious
when he finds out his wife has been taken to prison. During the outrage the father kicks the family dog, breaking
its back. The dog gives birth to a litter of pups that soon die. He sits next to the dead dogs for hours until he
cannot bear it any longer. David runs away from home where he is welcomed to the river gang which is led by a
boy named Petah. They share their scraps of food with him. He decides to abandon his identity and start his life
under the new name Tsotsi. He stays with the gang until there are dispersed in a police raid. Later he joins other
gangs of older boys and learns all the tough lessons of survival in a harsh and cruel world. Feeling the pain
inflicted on others is not permitted and memories of the past are worthless – they must be dismissed.
Chapter 10 - Tsotsi is awakened by a knocking at his door. His first instinct it to feel for the knife but then he
remembers the baby – it is still there at the foot of the bed, fast asleep. The knife does not bring the usual
reassurance – it sets off a chain of memories: the river, the street gangs, his mother and then Petah. Die Aap
visits Tsotsi to ask about their next job and to tell him that Butcher has joined another gang. Tsotsi tells him that
the gang has been disbanded and that they will no longer be doing the jobs that they used to. Die Aap leaves him
and Tsotsi hears the baby cry. Tsotsi takes out the baby. Staring at it he finally realises that the baby is helping
him remember his past. Miriam comes to Tsotsi’s room to feed the baby and later asks Tsotsi if she can have
him because she would be able to take care of him best. Tsotsi won’t let her take the baby because he is Tsotsi’s
baby. Tsotsi tells Miriam that the baby’s name is David and that he is not his father but that David belongs to
him. His thoughts keep returning to the memory of the river where he stayed with the street children and where
they played a game called “driving to hell and gone” in a rusty, derelict car that had crashed into the river one
night. When Miriam asks Tsotsi why he wants to keep the baby, he replies “Because I must find out”. Miriam
leaves and gives Tsotsi some milk for the baby. Tsotsi takes David back to the ruins. He makes the long journey
to the river where he finds the pipes and the shell of a motorcar. Now he has confirmed his memories and the
truth of all he had recalled about his past. He begins to wonder where Boston is and leaves to go and find him.
Chapter 11 - Tsotsi eventually finds Boston passed out of the floor of Marty’s shebeen. The owner, Marty,
fearlessly confronts Tsotsi and blames him for Boston’s state. She orders Tsotsi to remove the filthy, stinking,
drunk and injured Boston. Tsotsi helps him up and carries him back to his room to take care of him. Halfway
there, Boston wakes up and realises who is carrying him. He cries out in terror and staggers off into the
darkness. Tsotsi follows Boston and finds him collapsed under a sign. He takes him back to his room. He is
beginning to sense – both physically and emotionally – the extent of the pain that he has inflicted. He is
disturbed and confused. Tsotsi goes off to buy bread and milk. Fugard begins to reveal to us the life that Boston
has lead, how he was expelled from college, how he illegally sold fake passbooks to people and how a guy as
smart as he became a part of the gang. For years he has been misleading his mother into thinking he is employed
as a teacher. As Boston awakes Tsotsi begins to tell him about his experience with Morris and asks him
questions about how he is changing. Boston tells him that they are all sick of life and seek God. Boston leaves in
search of his mother.
Chapter 12 - Isaiah (the care-taker, bell-ringer and gardener at Reverend Ransome’s church) sits in the church
garden planting flowers where Tsotsi, who is on his way to seek redemption from God, finds him. Miss Marriot,
who works in the church office, is trying to get Isaiah to plant seedlings in a straight row. Isaiah and Tsotsi
strike up a conversation. He explains how he works for God and that when he rings the church bell it calls to all
the other people who believe in God. Isaiah invites him back next time the bells ring to find God. Tsotsi feels
“unnaturally light”, almost as is if is floating. Tsotsi finds Miriam again to feed the baby. As she feeds the baby
Tsotsi realises that mothers really do love their children and that in order for you to move into the future you
have to let your past go. Miriam asks him to let her have the baby again but he does not leave the baby with her
because he doesn’t quite trust her yet. After he goes to church Tsotsi decides that he will go back to his
childhood name, David Madondo. As he heads back to the ruins he hears bulldozers taking down the walls. He
runs into the building only focused on one thing, finding the baby. He runs straight to the corner where the baby
lay, where he and the baby would be crushed by the ceiling. The workers who recover his body minutes later
agree that his smile is beautiful and strange for a Tsotsi. Tsotsi’s search for his true identity as David Madondo
and for some kind of meaning to his life ends with a final act of sacrifice, as he dies in the attempt to save his
alter ego, the baby David.
Set in an unnamed township near Johannesburg. Overcrowding, poverty, unemployment, violence, crime,
homelessness and gangsterism were rife. Gangsters spoke Tsotsi-taal – a mixture of English, Afrikaans and
other languages. People had to queue for hours at a communal tap for water. Slum demolition squads with
bulldozers instilled fear by razing shacks in the shanty town. Parts of the township had been reduced to ruins.
During this time Sophiatown was being dismantled. This was done under the guise of “slum clearance” but the
real reason was to fulfil the apartheid government’s plan to destroy mixed areas in order to enforce separate
residential areas for people of different races. The passbook system was in place to control the movement of
black people.
Tsotsi - As a boy he was innocent and content. However, when his mother was taken from him, he was left
alone to witness his father come home and upon realising the house was empty, he lashed out at the dog. Tsotsi
was scared and fled the home. He is taken in by Petah’s gang – he changes his identity and becomes the thug we
meet when the novel starts. At the onset of the novel he is the leader of the gang. He is a cold, calculating antihero. He is brutal, unscrupulous, dishonest, ruthless, cruel and indifferent. He does not do any honest work – he
is lazy and idle. He spends most days drinking at a shebeen and he ‘stalks’ his prey at night. He describes
himself as inwardly dark – he is driven by dark impulses. He represents the worst of human nature.
He creates three rules in order to survive as Tsotsi:
1. Rule of the working moment – always be able to see his knife
2. Never disturb his ‘inner darkness’
3. Tolerate no questions from others
The novel traces his journey to redemption:
• He chooses to save the baby. (The baby acts as a catalyst for his journey to self-discovery.)
• He stalks and plans to kill Morris, however he reflects and begins to feel sympathy for the crippled man.
• He alienates himself from the gang.
• He seeks Miriam’s help. (She shows him that your past cannot define your present or future.)
• He finds Boston. (He takes care of him and Boston talks to Tsotsi about God.)
• He meets Isaiah and goes to church.
• He rediscovers his identity and humanity – he becomes David Madondo again.
• He sacrifices himself in an attempt to save the baby from being crushed to death in the ruins. (The smile on
his face shows that he has no regrets and is pleased with whom he has become.)
Miriam Ngidi - Miriam is an eighteen-year old with a young baby. Like many other young women in South
Africa, Miriam has been abandoned by her husband – Simon – and left with a child to care for all on her own.
(Or was he abducted by the apartheid police on his way to work on the mines?) Tsotsi’s mom and the lady who
gave the baby to Tsotsi have been put in the same situation and Miriam is our symbol for them. Through a strict
plot context we know Miriam as the lady who feeds little David for Tsotsi. She is shown as an overall symbolic
mother, nurturing and nourishing not only baby David but her own son too. She performs these mother-like acts
to Tsotsi also and teaches him how to love again. (She shows the true qualities of Ubuntu.) She is like Mother
Mary. She shows Tsotsi that we mustn’t live in the past and need to move on in life and never give up. She
shows great concern and empathy, not only for the baby for also for Tsotsi. Her inner strength is a most
admirable quality. She is a strong, courageous woman who finally accepts that her husband is dead. She is
determined to make a life for herself and her son.
The baby “David” – He is introduced relatively early through Tsotsi receiving it in the bluegum trees by a
frightened woman who he intended to rape. The baby becomes a catalyst for Tsotsi’s self-discovery. The baby is
fragile, dependent, needy, helpless, vulnerable and ultimately a miracle of life. The baby represents innocence,
kindness, and the positives of human nature just like David, who Tsotsi was prior to becoming a thug. Tsotsi
recognises that and names the baby after his past self. The baby evokes feelings of sympathy and mercy in
Tsotsi – feelings he has denied before this. The baby helps Tsotsi towards becoming David again through
teaching him simple life lessons such as caring, nurturing and responsibility for others. Tsotsi nurtures the baby
with milk and cleans the baby which proves this new compassionate outlook. When David Madondo sacrifices
his own life for that of the baby, he is actually saving himself. By his efforts to save the baby his instincts have
changed from violence – like a street thug – to compassion – like a mother, saving his humanity. It is the
ultimate redemption of becoming David again.
Butcher - Like all black males living in South Africa at the time, Butcher is a victim of Apartheid. These men
take all means to survive and we see this expressed in the way Butcher lives his day-to-day life in the gang. To
them he is the killer – he never misses a strike and is the go-to man when the job needs to get done. Violence is
the way he has learned to survive because it is the only way he can. He is an angry, cold-blooded and an
impassive murderer. He enjoys tormenting Boston for his queasiness when it comes to murdering ‘decent’
fellow humans like Gumboot Dhlamini. To Tsotsi, Butcher doesn’t mean much other than a person in his gang
who is skilful and ruthless. Later Butcher decides to abandon the gang when Tsotsi’s behaviour changes.
Die Aap - Die Aap, like all the other characters, is a symbol of Apartheid in South Africa. Their personal,
actions, values and tendencies have been crafted by the oppression they have faced from the government. Die
Aap is a very loyal character – he wants the gang to stay together when Tsotsi is speaking of them to split – they
are his brotherhood and he would do anything for them. He is content to follow Tsotsi’s decisions no matter
how brutal the crime because they are all he knows. Die Aap is very strong and has long arms, reflected in his
name. He is slow of speech and thought. He doesn’t mean much to Tsotsi, he is just a gang member. Die Aap
doesn’t play a huge role in the understanding of the novel other than when he is the one who Tsotsi officially
tells that the gang is over.
Morris Tshabalala – is crippled, he lost his legs six years ago in a mineshaft collapse. He has lost his dignity
and is ashamed of the way he must get his money in order to survive – begging. He is proud, bitter and without
hope. He believes he is a half-man. When Tsotsi’s gang goes to the city, Tsotsi decides he will kill Morris;
however, he feels sympathy for the cripple because he reminds him of the ‘yellow bitch’ (a flashback to a dog in
his backyard when he was younger). Morris is a catalyst for Tsotsi to remember the dog. He is also a symbol for
South Africa, due to the fact that he is a crippled man, much like South Africa. Morris helps the reader to see the
pivotal moment within Tsotsi and the shift that Tsotsi experiences. Morris shows Tsotsi the value of the little
things in life and shows Tsotsi that he can make choices. Morris does not have any other influential moment
within the text other than the interactions that he has with Tsotsi. With his reactions he creates and helps Tsotsi
develop the ability to show decency and allows Tsotsi to make choices that affect others, rather than just
himself. He is grateful for a second chance at life when he realises that Tsotsi isn’t going to kill him.
Boston - Walter “Boston” Nguza is the “brains” of the group. He went to college but didn’t complete it because
he was accused of raping a fellow student. This sent him down his path of resorting to crime for survival as he
had no other way to make ends meet. He is a very knowledgeable character and always tells stories to the group
when they aren’t out stalking prey. After the ‘job’ on the trains (killing Gumboot Dhlamini), Boston is the only
gang member who shows any remorse. He is violently ill after the event. He constantly asks Tsotsi questions –
which go against Tsotsi’s last two rules – and these questions make Tsotsi hate Boston. Tsotsi beats Boston
because of these questions and he accuses Tsotsi of having no decency. (He is the only gang member with a
sense of decency.) This influences Tsotsi’s decisions throughout the book. At the end of the novel Tsotsi seeks
Boston out and cares for him in order to try and discover answers to similar questions that Boston was asking
earlier. Boston acts as a catalyst for Tsotsi’s search for God. He explains to Tsotsi that he must seek out God to
get more answers and tells Tsotsi that everyone is “sick from life.” Not only does he help Tsotsi understand
what he must do to seek further redemption but the exchange they have also makes Boston realise he must go
back home to seek redemption from his mother.
Isaiah - Isaiah and Tsotsi meet at a church near the end of the story and engage in a short yet life changing
conversation for Tsotsi. In the Bible Isaiah is an 8th century prophet (inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will
of God) and in the novel he teaches Tsotsi about God; he tells Tsotsi of what will happen because of sin and that
God is inside the church and it engages his interest of attending the church even more. Tsotsi has been looking
for God and that is why he went to Boston, Isaiah is his door to God. Tsotsi is invited back to the church and if
it wasn’t for the baby in the ruins the next day, he would have returned. Isaiah allows Tsotsi to understand the
possibilities of Christianity brings.
Gumboot Dhlamini - is a migrant worker in the Johannesburg mines. He has a sunny and positive disposition.
Ironically, it is his broad smile that is his undoing as it prompts Tsotsi to choose him as the gang’s victim.
Gumboot is also foolish because he allows himself to be complacent and opens his pay packet in full public
view. The gang members surround him on a crowded train and kill him. The last we see of Gumboot is at his
funeral when the officiating priest does not even know his name. However, he has an important role in the novel
because he is a catalyst for the disintegration of the gang and the changes that occur in Tsotsi’s life.
Apartheid: a system that led to moral and social decline
Tsotsi views the world as an ‘ugly place’ where living is difficult, so people merely survive. This is a world
where decent people are killed (Gumboot) and those who question morality (Boston) are punished. The purpose
of apartheid in South Africa was to segregate races and to establish white superiority. All people of colour had
to have a Passbook on their person at all times – passbook raids were a regular occurrence. Townships had very
few amenities – one tap in Waterworks Square, no flushing toilets, no electricity. Demolition squads destroyed
homes to ensure that there was a safe ‘no-man’s land’ between the white suburbs and the townships. Characters
like Morris and Gumboot represent those who came from the rural areas in search of work. The novel exposes
the true evil that flourished in the darker purpose of apartheid. Tsotsi and the gang live impoverished lives in the
township. They resort to crime to survive; they are thugs who commit violent crimes with indifference. The
poor socio-economic situation due to the effects of apartheid is clearly portrayed. Violence, crime and poverty
all form part of township life. All are affected – some are perpetrators (Tsotsi and his gang), some are victims
(Morris, Miriam, Gumboot).
David (Tsotsi) is forced to live on the streets at the age of ten and he adopts a life of crime in order to survive.
His abandonment is triggered by a police raid – his mother is taken away from him and he flees his abusive,
drunk father. The baby given to Tsotsi in the bluegum trees is forsaken by its mother.
Boston feels guilt, shame and regret when the gang kills Gumboot Dhlamini. The mother who gives Tsotsi her
baby appears to feel shame and regret at abandoning her child. Tsotsi feels guilty after beating up Boston, even
though he only recognises the guilt much later.
The gang instils fear wherever they go. Isaiah describes them as “no-good loafers, scum who killed, wicked.”
Boston fears Tsotsi. Morris fears Tsotsi. Tsotsi affirms his identity by the fear he instils in others.
Boston and the baby are catalysts in Tsotsi’s life. The author shows that there is hope for a person who is an
anti-hero. Tsotsi saves the baby; he shows mercy to Morris; he puts the gang behind him and finds Boston; he
talks to Isaiah about God; he allows himself to hope for a better future and to be positively influenced.
At the beginning of the novel, survival is attained in a savage and animalistic way. To survive Tsotsi kills
innocent people in order to get money. As the story develops, so does the theme of survival. It becomes less of a
physical survival and shifts to an emotional and spiritual survival. Not only does Tsotsi save himself but others
too, he gives them hope. In saving others Tsotsi saves himself and his conscious. Examples are shown through
the secondary characters or Morris and Boston and Miriam. When Tsotsi lets Morris live after hours of stalking
him, he saved Morris from his ultimate fear of death and saves his own kind-hearted personality, taking one step
closer to becoming his old self, David. After beating him only two days before because he asked questions,
Tsotsi saves Boston from death, by nourishment, like a mother figure. Along with taking care of the man, Tsotsi
asks questions of Boston about life. Tsotsi has abandoned one of his rules that made him the thug he is. These
actions show that Tsotsi is becoming a new man, regaining and saving his soul. Fugard wants us to understand
that survival is not only your physical presence but the mental state of yourself. You can be alive but your
respect for others, positive attitude and kind-heartedness is diminished then you are dead as a soul.
Redemption and mercy
At the outset of the novel Tsotsi is in a state of sin with his gang but through interactions with others, he can
redeem himself to the young, innocent boy he once was, David. The mercy he shows Morris is described as ‘the
miracle of sharing in another man’s suffering’. He recognises that he is moving into the light and finding
compassion in the ‘halo of its radiance’. Morris reminds Tsotsi that mothers love their children. Through caring
for Boston, Tsotsi asks him questions pertaining to life in general. This nurturing and discussion allow Tsotsi to
redeem himself not only to Boston but himself. Boston now knows Tsotsi is trying to fix himself and become a
better person, therefore gaining respect for him. It is clear that the change in Tsotsi is governed by a godly force.
Since Boston told Tsotsi he is looking for God, Tsotsi goes to the church and finds Isaiah. Through their
interaction Tsotsi learns more of God and what he and Christianity can do for a person. Tsotsi agreed to return
to the church later for a session. This shows Tsotsi moving away from his state of sin and again moving closer
to becoming David. Through these interactions Tsotsi is walking the road of redemption and becoming David.
The final act of redemption is when Tsotsi attempts to save the baby at the end of the novel. At the beginning of
the novel Tsotsi was a life-taker and by the end he moves to a life-saver showing us the full circle redemption.
The author wants us to learn that although you may commit acts that are uncivil or incorrect you can always
redeem yourself if you choose so. Tsotsi made the choice to interact with the people he did, he wanted to
become David. Fugard knows if it’s possible for him, it is for anyone.
Knowing right from wrong; upholding morals and values instilled by positive role models as a child; living by
society’s moral code; taking responsibility for one’s actions. Boston speaks about decency as having empathy
for another human being. Gumboot Dhlamini is an example of a decent person. We are first introduced to
decency at the beginning of the novel when Tsotsi beats up Boston because Boston asks him questions about
decency, referring to Tsotsi having none. Tsotsi doesn’t know how to answer and he feels insecure, which
causes him to lash out on Boston. Violence like this, along with killing, is what causes Tsotsi and his gang to
lose their decency all together. Boston later points out that they have become sick, from life, from the lifestyle
that they have participated in, lacking decency. As the story progresses Tsotsi learns he can attain decency in his
life. He learns this again through the seminal moments throughout the novel. Morris is a huge interaction for
Tsotsi. As the two talk and eventually Tsotsi allows Morris to live, Tsotsi does this because he recognises that
Morris too has a valuable life and this is an enormous step in attaining decency towards others. Tsotsi also
attains decency in his life through another important moment, remembering his past. When Tsotsi takes in the
full memory of the boy he used to be, he remembers what his life was like before he turned into a savage.
Although the memory may not have been the most positive it gives him a target of who he needs to become
again and this person is decent. Fugard wants us to learn that even the most lost, darkest human can turn their
life around and become a new person with new values.
Inner Darkness
Tsotsi is a gangster without a conscience. He shows no remorse in orchestrating Gumboot’s murder. He feels no
empathy when beating up Boston and intending to kill Morris. He is evil and driven by an ‘inner darkness’. He
threatens Miriam’s child. His ‘inner darkness’ dissipates as the novel progresses.
Using the name “Tsotsi” reflects the title character’s conversion to a life of crime. The young David Madondo
blots out the personal identity originally given to him through his mother’s nurture and care. As “Tsotsi” he
represses disturbing memories of his past as a way of coping. His new identity is forged by his new life’s
circumstances and by his associates, the township gangsters. He rejects his past and allows his ‘inner darkness’
to direct him in choosing the ‘jobs’ for the gang.
However, the baby is thrust into his arms and is a turning point in his life. The baby provides an opportunity to
rediscover his original innocent self. He even gives the baby his old name. But in order to recover the young
David, he has to discard “Tsotsi” and the inhumane way of life. He needs to forge a new path in order to become
David once again. Thus after ‘losing’ David, he rediscovers him. He needs to deal with the trauma and pain of
his youth and leave the horrible memories behind him in order to reclaim his name. At the end of the novel we
are told that he says out loud, with a joyous laugh: “My name is David Madondo.” And it is David Madondo
(not a tsotsi) who says: “Peace be with you.” in reply to the milkman’s greeting of “Peace my brother”. Finally
it seems that “Tsotsi” is no more and David is back.
Religion is a major theme throughout the entire novel. Almost every event relates back to Christianity in some
way. The baby represents the newborn baby Jesus. He brings innocence and peace to Tsotsi. Miriam represents
the Virgin Mary. She loves and cares about everyone which is why she wants to keep David. Gumboot
Dhlamini’s funeral leads the pastor to question his faith. Boston is the first person to mention to Tsotsi that if he
seeks redemption he must seek God, Isaiah plays a pivotal role in directing Tsotsi focus towards God. Morris’s
simple appreciation of nature also relates back to the creation of God. With Tsotsi’s death we accept that his
soul has been saved.
At the beginning of the novel the purpose of Tsotsi’s watching is to stalk. He is in a predator role. As seen in his
interactions with Gumboot and Morris, he watches in order to know how he must react in a physical manner –
what he must do in the situation. Watching helps Tsotsi through numerous conflicts throughout the novel. By
watching he makes his decisions on how to act to resolve the current conflict he is facing. While watching
Morris, Tsotsi is able to reflect on his current situation. He is contemplating whether or not he should kill the
cripple. His hours of watching instead of killing him earlier allows him time to thoroughly consider what he is
intending to do although the decision to not kill Morris comes once they have talked. The watching of Morris
has given him time to become sympathetic for Morris and to engage in conversation instead of taking his money
and life. While watching Miriam at the water spout as she waits to fill her flagon he is faced with the conflict of
needing to feed his baby. Through watching he is able to pick out who would be the best fit to do this for him.
He is able to pick out Miriam, who has a child of her own, who will surely be a good fit.
As the novel develops, he watches to learn, he watches to change himself internally, and it is a self-motivation
to find himself like when he watches Isaiah. While watching Isaiah Tsotsi is facing the conflict of wanting to
find God and answers. He has time to think of what he wants to ask and even though Isaiah starts the
conversation, Tsotsi has been waiting and watched him up until this point. He doesn’t leave because he is
motivated to get these answers to resolve his internal conflict which is ultimately becoming decent. Through
watching and observing others, Tsotsi takes values and beliefs from each which pushed him closer to becoming
who he really is and who he was before he became a thug that is David.
Tsotsi watches to see how others behave and how they deal with situations. This is key in the survival of Tsotsi
because with this analysis he can decide how to react in a beneficial way to himself. In the outset of the novel
Tsotsi watches so he can survive physically in order to stay alive. Near the end he watches so he can regain his
soul. (Tsotsi watches Petah’s gang steal and rob in the streets and how they act. He picks up on this behaviour
and it is an essential part in how he starts to live out his life, surviving on the streets by a rough lifestyle of
robbing and killing innocent others.)
The Dog
Represents his past, Tsotsi is the dog. It also represents the crippled apartheid system that South Africa is faced
with. The dog allows Tsotsi to compare Morris to his past and help his decision to let him live.
Light and dark
Light is the kind, compassionate, caring and thoughtful side of the story. Dark represents the bad, murderous,
ruthless and violent aspect of the text. The story begins in the darkness when Tsotsi is still a thug who kills and
robs with his gang but as the story progresses and he moves closer and closer to becoming David, we see more
light appear in his life. In the dark is where he commits acts of violence such as almost raping the woman who
gave him the baby, he stalks Morris in the dark and Rosie is raped by his gang in the dark too. Light is shown
when Tsotsi decides to let Morris live ( they are under the lamp post ), we also see it when he confronts Boston
after beating him only two days before, it is during dark when the beating occurs and light when Tsotsi meets up
with him again. Finally when Tsotsi attempts to save the baby at the end, the sun is shining down on him when
he is recovered. The transition as the novel moves from beginning to end is very clear and we can see how the
two symbols represent what they do.
Represents South Africa and the situation as a whole for the black people under Apartheid. They have a tougher
life, with way less rights and privileges than white people. They are poor and live in run-down townships. The
white people held no care or concern for them, no desire to give them a respectable life. Just like how no-one
has care for the ruins in the novel. These black people’s lives were in ruins. They were viewed as inferior just
like if you saw a rundown building, you wouldn’t see it as a nice house standing tall, kept in a good condition.
The water supply that many people line up for in the story is a symbol of life. Water is essential in the survival
of a human being and without it you will eventually perish. It shows us how desperate black people under
Apartheid are for the most basic necessity. They line up for the ability to continue on. Lined up for life.
The baby is a symbol of renewal, rebirth and redemption, focused on Tsotsi. It is the catalyst to change Tsotsi
back to the person he once was, David. Tsotsi sees himself within the child and it triggers the pursuit of
cleansing and redemption within his life. The baby is Tsotsi also; it is what he represents when he is David,
innocence, kind-heartedness and youth. In attempting to save the baby at the end he is actually saving himself
from the thug life he was living.
1. Isaiah describes Tsotsi as a “no-good loafer of the street corners and shebeens, the ones you avoided at
night, the scum who killed for pennies or tickeys or no reason at all and who never did a day’s work in [his]
wicked life.”
Is the above statement a fair assessment of the title character? Examine and discuss occurrences in the novel
to justify your view.
2. The baby is the catalyst to Tsotsi recovering an identity beyond that of being a criminal and street thug.
Discuss the validity of this statement.
3. Tsotsi is a story about salvation: the main character overcomes his ‘inner darkness’, discovers his capacity
to love and rediscovers his humanity.
Critically discuss the accuracy of this statement.
4. “He was seeing Morris Tshabalala for the first time, in a way that he hadn’t seen him before, or with a
second sort of sight, or maybe just more clearly.”
What is the connection between ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ in Tsotsi? Justify your response with reference to
characters and incidents in the novel.
5. This novel illustrates how people can be profoundly affected by those around them. Tsotsi’s road to
redemption is not without these external influences.
In an essay of 350 – 400 words discuss how two or three characters in the novel influence Tsotsi and assist
in his journey to redemption. You may choose to discuss Miriam, Boston, Isaiah, the baby or Morris.
6. Tsotsi is more than a story about a man who finds mercy and redemption: it is a scathing attack on the
apartheid system that ruined a society.
Discuss the validity of this statement.
7. This novel illustrates how humankind can be deeply and profoundly affected by events.
Discuss this statement in light of the characters of Tsotsi and Boston.
1. Identify why Tsotsi is silent for most of the chapter and how this contributes to the atmosphere.
2. What makes Tsotsi a particularly menacing brand of gangster?
3. Choose three sentences or phrases that summarise Tsotsi’s perception of the members of his gang.
4. Compare the four gang members and describe what their niche is within the group.
5. Why is Friday a good night to commit a crime?
6. How does Boston’s reaction to Tsotsi’s suggestion, that they find their next victim on the train, differ from the
reactions of the other members? What does that indicate about his character?
7. What weapon does Butcher prefer to use? Why? What does that tell is about him?
8. What indications are there that the men have a bad reputation in the community?
9. What is the purpose of the author giving a detailed description of Gumboot Dhlamini’s life?
10. Discuss the details about the life of the migrant mine workers in terms of the theme of the novel.
11. List and explain the three mistakes that Gumboot made on his last day.
12. Explain each gang member’s role in Gumboot’s murder.
13. Explain Boston’s reaction to the murder. What does it tell us about him?
14. Why does Tsotsi whisper an obscenity in Gumboot’s ear?
1. Why does Fugard set the episode at Soekie’s after the murder? Analyse the description of Soekie’s place. How
does this relate to a theme in the novel?
2. What evidence is there is the beginning of the chapter that Boston is losing control?
3. Explain why Boston asks Tsotsi questions.
4. Describe how the murder of Gumboot affects each of the gang members.
5. What else, other than vomit, did Boston spill after the murder? Why?
6. In what way is Boston like a “cornered animal trapped in a ring of ridicule”?
7. What do Boston’s words, “everything you are not”, reveal about his opinion of Die Aap and Butcher?
8. Identify what Tsotsi’s reaction to Boston’s questions reveals about his character.
9. “Your maag can’t take it.” What does this sentence tell us about the township language Fugard has chosen for
these thugs to use?
10. Tsotsi wants everything to stay “the same as always”. Why?
11. What is the function of Rosie’s presence in this chapter? Link this to a theme in the novel.
12. Why does Soekie try to get Rosie to go home?
13. For every two drinks the other have, Tsotsi has one. Explain why he does this.
14. What does Boston mean by ‘decency’?
15. “What is that?” What is ironic about Butcher’s reaction to Boston’s used of the word ‘decency’?
16. What disturbing truth do we learn about Tsotsi’s past?
17. Evaluate Tsotsi’s description of himself as ‘meaningless as a handful of stones’.
1. What sparks Tsotsi’s attack on Boston?
2. Describe Tsotsi’s three rules.
3. Why are the three rules significant?
4. How do the rules reflect Tsotsi’s personality? How do they protect him?
5. What is the importance of Tsotsi’s knife?
6. What is Tsotsi’s state of mind when he leaves the shebeen?
7. Why does he want to be alone?
8. What descriptions in this chapter indicate that this novel takes place in apartheid South Africa?
9. Tsotsi can’t always keep his memories at bay. Mention two events that force the concept of memory to the
10. Who is Petah?
11. What is Tsotsi trying to run from throughout the Chapter? Select a character trait this reveals about him.
12. Based on the spider anecdote, why does Tsotsi avoid all thought of the past?
13. What words seem to indicate that the woman in the bluegum grove actually chooses to give the baby away?
14. Why does Tsotsi kill neither the woman nor the baby in the bluegum trees?
1. How is the narration different in this chapter?
2. Why does the author change the narration?
3. Why is Cassim in such a nervous state?
4. Cassim offers a clear insight into how the members of Tsotsi’s gang are perceived by the community. Quote two
consecutive words that incorporate a metaphor to describe the gang.
5. Mention some ways in which the author uses humour to break the tension in this chapter.
6. Explain why Tsotsi waits for the store to be empty before buying milk. What internal conflict is he facing?
7. Which two characteristics of Tsotsi are in contrast to the characteristics previously revealed?
8. Why is Tsotsi unable to see on the label that condensed milk is not suitable as baby milk? Which socio-economic
problem does Fugard introduce here?
9. Why is buying baby milk an embarrassment for someone like Tsotsi?
10. Why is MaRhabatse’s house a ruin?
11. Discuss the significance of Tsotsi caring for the baby.
12. How is the arrival of the baby in Tsotsi’s life “destructive”?
13. Tsotsi uses his knife to open holes in the condensed milk tin. Discuss the irony in this action.
14. “… a game he had never dared play and the baby was the dice, so to speak.” Explain this metaphor.
15. Give two reasons why Tsotsi uses a thin square of wood to cover his window.
16. Why are there many areas of ruins in the township?
17. What fundamental change takes place in Tsotsi at the end of the chapter?
1. Why is Reverend Ransome so troubled?
2. Describe the symbolism of the township cemetery.
3. What socio-political point is the author making with his descriptions of the cemetery and the burial of Gumboot
4. Describe Boston’s physical and mental condition when he regains consciousness.
5. Give two reasons what the author refers to the smell of dirty rags in the room.
6. Compare Tsotsi making the “kill decisions” at the beginning of the novel to now. What has changed and how
does this reveal his overall change of character?
7. Explain the following line: “Something had tampered with the mechanism that had governed his life.”
8. What is significant (and acts as a foreshadowing) about the woman who walks past Tsotsi’s room?
9. Identify how the dynamic of the group has changed.
10. Die Aap and Butcher are both flat characters who do not have much depth. How does the author illustrate this as
they stand around waiting for Tsotsi to appear?
11. How does the author illustrate that Boston’s character is more in-depth? Refer to details in this chapter as well as
details in chapters 1-4.
12. Why is it difficult for Tsotsi to formulate a plan for their night’s operation?
13. What is the irony of Tsotsi wanting to know from the others where Boston is?
14. How does the author illustrate that there is not much loyalty between the gang members? How is this ‘good’
news for Tsotsi?
1. How does this chapter deviate from the plot of the novel so far?
2. What is the purpose of the description of Terminal Place?
3. Describe Morris’s miserable life and WHY Fugard includes all the details about his accident and life as a
crippled man.
4. Like Gumboot, Morris Tshabalala is also a man. Discuss how these characters are different kinds of men.
5. How does Fugard use the character of Morris to criticise the unfairness of the world created by apartheid?
6. Why does Tsotsi choose Morris as his next victim? What does that say about him?
7. How does Morris become aware that Tsotsi is following him?
8. Discuss two ways in which the descriptions of the newspaper seller break the tension.
9. Discuss the significance of the newspaper headlines in terms of the setting of the novel.
10. Describe what connection Tsotsi makes with Morris and identify how that influences his view of Morris.
11. Identify the atmosphere and explain how it develops Tsotsi’s internal conflict.
1. Refer to the first paragraph. What indication is there that something profound has changed in Tsotsi?
2. Why does Tsotsi step on Morris’s hand?
3. What is the effect on Tsotsi of the curse muttered by Morris? Why?
4. Why is Tsotsi alone? What does this mean?
5. Tsotsi realises that he is not after Morris’s money. Why is he drawn to following and attacking him?
6. Compare Tsotsi’s feelings towards Morris to his feelings towards Gumboot whom he stalked earlier.
7. What new ‘truth’ does Morris discover after all the years when he thought nothing mattered?
8. Why does Morris accuse Tsotsi of not wanting to live?
9. What, according to Tsotsi, is the truth about life?
10. Does Tsotsi understand Morris’s explanation about a person’s will to live? Explain your answer.
11. Why does Morris say: “Mothers love their children”? Explain Tsotsi’s response to the statement.
12. Morris makes Tsotsi realise that his power over life and death can have another meaning. What is this?
13. Explain the motif of light and dark throughout the time Tsotsi stalks Morris.
1. Explain the link between the last section of Chapter 7 and the first section of Chapter 8.
2. Why does Reverend Ransome pray on his way to open up for the church-goers: “God help me”?
3. Boston is suffering “fear of pain and shame” – why is he in this state?
4. When Tsotsi first sees the baby he wants to run away but instead “he took a deep breath, held it in, and went to
work”. Analyse the significance of this and what it reveals about his change in character.
5. How does Tsotsi know that the baby is near death?
6. The communal water tap is “indispensable, hated at times, enjoyed at others”. Explain these descriptions.
7. Language and idiomatic expressions are a reflection of the way we live. How does the writer illustrate this in the
descriptions of the Waterworks Square?
8. The author mentions that Miriam was waiting for her husband to return, and had to accept that he was probably
dead. What incidents in the book so far confirm this suspicion?
9. What reference to the struggle against apartheid infers that Simon may have been arrested or detained?
10. List and describe two ways in which the author shows that Miriam is well brought-up and has manners.
11. How are Miriam’s social skills in sharp contrast to Tsotsi’s?
12. Assess the internal conflict with which Miriam is faced.
13. Discuss why this is significant and how it affects her first confrontation with Tsotsi and the baby.
14. How is the reader reminded of Tsotsi’s illiteracy in this chapter?
15. How does Tsotsi know the baby is close to death?
16. Why does Tsotsi threaten Miriam? Why does he not simply ask for help?
17. Why is it that Miriam finds feeding the baby deeply satisfying?
18. Why is Miriam’s remark about the bitch and her pups so significant?
19. Describe the mood on a Sunday afternoon in the township.
20. Discuss what Fugard is foreshadowing by giving the description of the church.
1. What is Tsotsi’s real name?
2. Why does this ‘flashback’ chapter come at this point in the story?
3. What impression is created of Tsotsi’s life at home at the beginning of the chapter?
4. Why did the yellow bitch stop being friendly and playful?
5. What impression of Tsotsi’s father is created by his mother?
6. Why does Tsotsi run and hide when he hears his father’s entrance to the house?
7. Analyse why Tsotsi would “have no use for memories” and, in a relatively short period of time after losing his
mother, make the choice to become a Tsotsi.
8. Assess the impact of watching his father cripple and kill the dog in front of him as a child.
9. Tsotsi awakes from a dream of a storm and thunder. What is the dream really?
10. Why do the street children accept David into their gang?
11. The child David is clearly distressed on his first night in the pipes. How do his actions reflect this?
12. Explain the symbolism of Petah’s comment that David can ‘choose his name’.
13. David says, ‘He dead’ when referring to his real name. Explain the full impact of this statement.
14. How does David come to choose the name ‘Tsotsi’? How is this contrary to his sheltered childhood?
15. Which two survival skills did Tsotsi teach himself as a young child living in the pipes?
1. Chapter 3 describes Tsotsi’s rules for survival. What indication is there now that those rules no longer apply?
2. How does the author show that Tsotsi is struggling to adjust to the fact that he has remembered his childhood?
3. How has the symbolic significance of his knife changed for Tsotsi?
4. List three of the memories that fill Tsotsi’s mind.
5. The author uses comic relief to ease the tension at the beginning of this chapter. How does he do this? Why?
6. Why has Die Aap come to Tsotsi’s room?
7. What has happened to Butcher?
8. Tsotsi’s diction and mannerisms have changed. How are they different from the way the author structures
sentences and descriptions, and what does it signify? You may quote in support of your answer.
9. Describe the significance of Tsotsi “ending it” and how this reinforces the theme of redemption and how it is a
step towards Tsotsi becoming redeemed.
10. Explain how Tsotsi’s changing psyche is also revealed in his observations of Miriam as she stands in the queue.
11. Tsotsi tells Miriam that the baby’s name is David. What does this reveal about his character?
12. When Tsotsi says that “David” never saw his father, who is he really referring to?
13. Assess why Tsotsi doesn’t want to give David to Miriam.
14. Explain why Tsotsi races to the pipes and reflect on how we all may have a moment of realisation when we see
something from our past, just as Tsotsi has once he arrives at the pipes.
15. Analyse Tsotsi’s flashback to the game he and the other ‘lost’ boys played in the dusty old car in the riverbed.
16. What is revealed about the timeline of the events in the novel?
1. Who is Marty?
2. Why does Tsotsi need to find Boston?
3. Why is Boston afraid of Tsotsi?
4. Explain the significance of the comparison of Tsotsi carrying Boston ‘like a baby’.
5. How does is become evident that Tsotsi feels empathy for Boston?
6. Briefly summarise the tragedy of Walter ‘Boston’ Nguza’s life.
7. Why did Boston not tell his mother about his expulsion from college?
8. Who is Johnboy Lethetwa?
9. Boston notices a change in Tsotsi when he looks into his eyes. Quote the sentence and explain what he sees.
10. Differentiate Tsotsi’s feelings towards Boston and his questions at the beginning of the novel to now.
11. As Boston listens to Tsotsi telling his story, he thinks of the concept of ‘mercy’. Discuss how this word can be
interpreted in the context of this chapter.
12. Describe how this affects both Boston and Tsotsi’s characters and their relationship.
13. What does God mean to Tsotsi?
14. Describe how the concept of God would be so new to him and how it may help him become redeemed.
15. Interpret what Boston means by “we are all sick of life” and how, even now, this affects South Africans.
1. How does Miss Marriot’s treatment of Isaiah reflect the political situation?
2. What is Isobel Marriot’s function in this chapter?
3. Has Father Ransome has been effective in his purpose as a priest bringing people closer to God? Explain.
4. Why did Fugard choose the name Isaiah for the old man at the township church?
5. Comment on Isaiah’s description of Tsotsi as looking ‘tired’.
6. Isaiah and Tsotsi have a conversation under the shade of a bluegum tree. Why is this significant?
7. Isaiah plants the seedlings in a crooked row. What else does he not get ‘straight’?
8. Why does Tsotsi’s body feel light as he walks away from the church?
9. Explain the irony of Miss Marriot’s comment that they ‘don’t allow strangers in the grounds’, and then, that ‘he
is welcome to pray’.
10. Tsotsi’s relationship with Miriam starts aggressively but over the course of the novel he comes to appreciate her.
Although he never says ‘thank you’, how does their relationship change to let us know she is appreciated?
11. Describe how the relationship between Tsotsi and Miriam has changed.
12. Comment of the image of the white linen blowing in the wind as Miriam does the laundry.
13. Identify what Miriam indirectly teaches Tsotsi about life? Identify the belief she leaves with him.
14. What is the significance of David Madondo saying ‘Peace be with you’ to a passer-by?
15. Why does Tsotsi return the baby to the ruins?
16. Why had the “slum clearance” been resumed?
17. Explain the significance of Tsotsi calling himself David Madondo. How has he been redeemed?
18. In what way is the end of the novel tragic? In what way is the end of the novel positive?
Read the extract and answer the questions that follow.
1 That was the Saturday street. Lots of people, come today gone tomorrow, very hot, making up now for the banshee time
around midnight when Saturday night would reach its climax.
Tsotsi saw it very quickly and closed his mind to it. He had seen it before. Free of the embarrassment and humiliation he
felt in buying the milk he was free now to hurry without a loss of pride. He slipped the tin into his coat pocket and pushed
forward. People felt safe in the daylight and that made it harder to move through the crowds on the pavement. On Fridays
they opened up and made a path for him.
2 When he reached his room he was sweating. He closed the door behind him, putting a chair against it so that no one could
enter unexpectedly. The window, or rather the hole in the wall since there was no glass, he covered up with the thin square
of wood which he used for that purpose when it was cold or raining and the wind blew. Only then, feeling safe from
inquisitive eyes or interruption, did he take the shoebox from its hiding place under the bed. He put it down carefully on the
table, pulled up a chair, sat down, and then took off the lid to examine its contents.
3 It was still alive and seemed to be sleeping. A foul acrid smell rose up from the box, but he didn’t notice it because for a
moment he was again awed by what he saw. This was man. This small, almost ancient, very useless and abandoned thing
was the beginning of a man. It had legs and arms, a head and a body, but even when he allowed for that, he could still not
see how this would one day straighten out, smooth and shape itself into manhood. Even asleep its face was cross-grained
with complaint. The head was misshapen. It looked more like an egg. The body was covered with patches of fuzzy hair.
4 When his first surprise passed, Tsotsi noticed the smell. He left the table to fetch an old coat hanging on a nail behind the
door, first bundling it up before putting it down. Then very carefully he took the baby out of the box and put it down on the
coat. He was proud of that, the idea to use the coat. The baby looked better resting on it than it would have on the bare,
bottle-stained table-top. Catching himself with the feeling of pride he frowned, pursed his lips and worked on. Apart from
the stain on the bottom the box was still all right, which meant the smell was coming from the baby. He examined it. The
smell was coming from its clothes, the rags in which it was wrapped.
[Chapter 4]
1.1 Place the extract in context.
1.2 Account for the image of the “banshee street” to describe Saturday night in the township.
1.3 Explain the reasons for Tsotsi’s fear in Paragraphs 1-2.
1.4 Why do people make a path when they see Tsotsi on a Friday night?
1.5 Refer to paragraph 2.
1.5.1 How does the author build up the picture of Tsotsi as a meticulous character?
1.5.2 “A foul acrid smell rose up from the box, but he didn’t notice it because for a moment he was again awed
by what he saw. This was man.” What is unusual about Tsotsi’s reaction here?
1.6 Comment on the effectiveness of the diction in the words: “cross-grained with complaint”. Refer to the
meaning of “cross-grained” and the sound device.
1.7 What role does the baby have here, and in the rest of the novel, in enabling the redemption of Tsotsi? (4)
1 “So Simon is dead, but I got my baby and there’s little David too. It’s hard times but I’m doing washing and my brother
gives me something each week and I manage.” Miriam stood at the door, looking out into the yard. “I mean we gotta live.
Little David – he’s got to live. Anyway, Simon must and me too. Even you. We just got to live. Isn’t that so? That’s what it
is. That’s all it is. Tomorrow comes and you got to live.
2 Tomorrow comes, Tsotsi thought, and a little boy has got no father and his mother never came back and anyway he didn’t
remember, but tomorrow taught him that he had to live. She was right.
[Chapter 10]
1.8 Why is it significant that Tsotsi names the baby David?
1.9 Refer to paragraphs 1- 2.
1.9.1 Comment on the effect of omniscient narration which gives us insight into both character’s thoughts.
1.9.2 What little boy is Tsotsi referring to in paragraph 2?
1.10 Discuss Miriam’s role in Tsotsi’s transformation. Refer to this extract and other parts of the novel.
1.11 What tragic event happens soon after this conversation?
Read the following excerpts from the novel and answer the questions that follow:
‘Okay. Okay! I was sick. What’s that prove? Tell me. What’s that prove?’
Butcher laughed. ‘Ja. Sick man. Like a dog. Sick like a dog.’
‘So what’s it prove?’ Boston spoke with vehemence, raising his voice above the laughter. He was losing his
control. Spit bubbles had formed in the cracks at the side of his mouth. He repeated his question and then the
fifth person in the room, a woman seemingly asleep on a chair in the corner, looked up. They were drinking at
Soekie’s place. There were many places to drink in the township, and their number and location were never quite constant
form day to day, because the police were busy most nights and every day somebody would get a bottle
and set up shop. The choice was big. You could drink with the men or you could drink with the girls. You could
drink alone if it was that sort of day and that sort of world, you could sit down on a chair in a corner and drag out
the one tot to last all night and no one would give a damn one way or another why your mother was dead or your
woman gone. You could drink with a picture on the wall or no picture at all. You could drink comfortable in a
club easy, or sitting on a wooden bench, you could even drink standing up in a backyard.
Soekie’s place had a table with chairs around it, and a few more along the walls, which were bare. There was a
piece of linoleum on the floor but that counted for nothing because the floorboards were rotten. The light hung
naked above the table and on nights when the wind blew and found its way through the broken window pane and
the gap under the door, then the bulb swung slowly to and fro and the shadow of the filament moved in a sinister manner on
the wall. There was one door in from the street and in the opposite wall a second door which led to the second room where
Soekie lived, and slept, and ate her meals and played her gramophone and had her bottles
hidden. Tsotsi was sitting at the head of the table, rocking on the back legs of his chair. Die Aap was on his right, Butcher
opposite him. The chair on his left was empty. Boston had not yet sat down. The woman was sitting apart
in a corner. She had been there when they came in. She might have been there all day, with her head slumped forward, legs
outstretched, her arms swinging loose at her sides, a meaningless mumble on her lips at odd moments.
Chapter 2
Place this extract in context.
Describe the role of each of the gang members in the event preceding this extract.
Why does the author describe Soekie’s place in such detail? What effect is achieved?
Refer to lines 6-7: Why were the drinking places “never quite constant”?
Drawing from your knowledge of the novel, why does the gang prefer Soekie’s place?
‘Where is God?’
‘Everywhere. Mostly inside there.’ Isaiah indicated the church.
‘What does he want?’
The old man thought about this for a time. ‘For people to be good. You know. To stop stealing, and killing and robbing.’
‘Why’s he want that?’
‘Because it’s a sin.’
‘What’s a sin?’
‘Robbing, stealing and killing.’
‘What happens if you do that?’
‘Que! Lord Jesus Christ will punish you. You done those things?’
‘What do you mean punish?’
‘Give you hell.’
‘Kill you.’
The young man went away after that and Isaiah thought he was gone for good. But he came back a few minutes later.
‘When do they sing again?’
‘Tonight. I ring the bell tonight at ten minutes before seven. Why don’t you come?’
‘Come man and join in the singing.’
‘I’m telling you anybody can come. It’s the House of God. I ring His bell. Will you come?’
‘Listen tonight, you hear. Listen for me. I will call you to believe in God.’
His body felt unnaturally light. Walking was no longer the weight of his legs coming down on the hard, resistant
earth; but a sensation of drifting as if the shimmering noonday heat was running in the streets and carrying him
along with it. A warm wind came scuffling around the corners with clouds of dust. He had passed beyond even feeling the
sting as the grains of sand whipped into his flesh. He closed his eyes, but not tightly, just dropped the
lids, and then the wind passed right through him, blowing away his thoughts before he had time to recognise them. There
was no longer any weight to the baby he was carrying, wrapped up in his coat.
Chapter 12
Place this extract in context.
Explain the impact that the conversation with Isaiah has on Tsotsi.
Why is Tsotsi incredulous (in disbelief) about being allowed to attend church? (lines 19-21)
Explain why Tsotsi feels “unnaturally light” (line 25) at this point.
What does the author imply when he states that “there was no longer any weight to the baby he was
carrying” (line 30)?
2.11 What happens to the baby and Tsotsi after this? Is it a fitting conclusion to the novel? Explain your
Read the following extract from Chapter 1: “The street they took was crooked and buckled… men
looked the other way and women wept in the dust.” (pg8-9)
What does the physical description of the street imply about life in the township?
Explain the significance of the ‘dark clouds in the east’.
Comment of the effectiveness of the simile “…township wore that hour the way a beggar wears his
rags, the cast-offs of a better time, accepted but without gratitude, worn without pride…” in conveying
the attitudes of the people.
Discuss the impact of the demolition squads on the people living in the township.
Why are Tsotsi and his gang described as the “harbingers of the night”?
How does the atmosphere change with their presence on the street?
What aspects of Tsotsi’s character are being emphasised in this extract? Quote in support of your
Read the following extract from Chapter 2: “Tsotsi rocked gently on his chair … he was dead.” (pg16)
Place this extract in context.
Describe the relationship between Tsotsi and the gang.
Boston “had sat down in the gutter and vomited”. Discuss the significance of Boston’s behaviour for
the gang and for Tsotsi. Refer to this extract and the novel as a whole in your answer.
Account for Tsotsi’s hatred of Boston.
What is revealed about Tsotsi’s state of mind in this extract? Quote in support of your answer.
Read the following extract from Chapter 3: “Boston! He, Tsotsi, had himself picked Boston…if he
failed to observe them the trouble started.” (pg 29-30)
Comment on the ironic use of the word “virtue” in this extract.
Critically discuss Tsotsi’s opinion of Boston.
Explain how darkness is used as a symbol.
Read the following extract from Chapter 4: “It was the Saturday street…It looked more like an egg.”
(pg 39-40)
Place this extract in context.
With reference to diction, explain how the setting of this extract develops your understanding of life in
the township.
Explain why Tsotsi’s “embarrassment and humiliation” is significant.
How does the image of the baby evoke sympathy/awe in Tsotsi? Quote in support of your answer. (4)
Contrast the view of Tsotsi presented in this extract with the view of him as a gangster.
Read the following extract from Chapter 4: “It had broken into his life with shattering
improbability…the baby was the dice, so to speak.” (pg 45)
What impact has the baby had on Tsotsi’s life?
Explain Tsotsi’s ambivalence towards the baby.
Comment on the effectiveness of the image: “He was chancing his hand at a game he had never dared
play and the baby was the dice…”
Give an example of where Tsotsi has had to “swallow his pride”.
Read the following extract from Chapter 5: “The simplest things started the sequence…governed his
life, inhibiting its function.” (pg 54-55)
Discuss the effectiveness of the narrative style in conveying the changing relationship between Tsotsi
and the other gang members, Dis Aap and Butcher.
Comment on Tsotsi’s perception of Boston as “an exception” in the gang.
Explain the significance of Tsotsi’s realisation that life involves making choices.
What is the next (IMPORTANT!) choice that Tsotsi makes at Terminal Place.
Read the following extract from Chapter 6: “Why did I go on? he asked himself…They were gone.”
(pg 61)
Read the following extracts from Chapter 7: “He refined the thought…the cripple was revealed.”
(pg 79-80)
AND “I want to live…man’s excitement.” (pg 84-85)
Comment on the effectiveness of the simile “the beam…had come down like a guillotine on his life…”
in conveying Morris Tshabalala’s despondency with life.
Why does Tsotsi like this new experience to “Boston being sick after the job on the trains”?
What does Tsotsi’s attitude to Morris suggest about his changing character? Substantiate your answer
with reference to the text.
Comment on the symbolism of light in this context.
Explain the significance of the four words “I want to live” to Morris and to Tsotsi.
With reference to diction, contrast the thoughts and actions of Morris as revealed in these extracts. (4)
Account for Morris’s excitement.
Read the following extract from Chapter 8: “The thought of that greedy, decrepit, foul-smelling
bundle…she knew enough to wait patiently and let him continue.” (pg 102)
AND Read the following extract from Chapter 10: “He knew then that she had wanted to come…it
could smell her presence.” (pg 130)
AND Read the following extract from Chapter 12: “So Simon is dead, but I got my baby…She was
right.” (pg 162)
Explain why Miriam is disgusted with Tsotsi’s baby at first.
Is the word “savagely” an accurate description of Tsotsi’s character at this point in the novel?
Comment of Miriam’s change in attitude towards the baby.
How does this change in Miriam’s attitude influence the reader’s perception of her as a symbol or
Describe how the relationship between Miriam and Tsotsi has evolved.
Read the following extracts from Chapter 3: But instead be chose to remain…Where had it gone
wrong?” (pg 29)
Refer to the line: “lead him in a strange way”
Tsotsi chooses to remain sitting in this grove of bluegum trees. In what way will this decision “lead him
in a strange way”?
Refer to the line: “picked up the silken thread”
How does the metaphor of the ‘silken thread’ affect your understanding of the consequences of this
decision to stay where he is?
Refer to the line: “the violence was spent, without the madness of hate”
Identify the incident referred to here and explain what had happened.
Quote a sentence in the extract that indicates that Tsotsi regrets his actions.
Refer to the line: “the thousand lives adrift in the location streets”
Discuss the effectiveness of the image used here.
Refer to the line: “He had picked Boston because he had a virtue…he was clever”
The word virtue is repeated four times in four limes when referring to Boston, Die Aap and Butcher.
Why is the use of this word ironic in this context?