Tengo is the main character of the book. He is a black South African child, around the age of thirteen when the book starts, and lives with his family in the kraal on the oubass's farm. He desperately seeks a way for whites and blacks to live equally, thereby ending Apartheid. However, in Part Two of the book, he must choose which he wants more: an inferior education given by the whites, or a violent liberation from the blacks.
Frikkie is Tengo's best friend at the beginning of the book. He is a white Afrikaner and spends his school holidays at his Uncle's farm, playing soccer and running around with Tengo. He wants everything to stay the same and does not accept change.
Oom Koos is the oubass of the farm. He is Frikkie's uncle, and oversees everything that goes on in the farm. He does not want the black protesters to gain power.
Tant Sannie is Frikkie's aunt and Oom Koos's wife. She thinks education is wasted on blacks.
Selina is Tengo's mother. She does much of the menial work with the other black servants at the farm.
Timothy is Tengo's father. He is the boss-boy of the farm, which means he was appointed by Oom Koos to manage the farm.
Tandi is Tengo's sister. She is constantly sick and stays in the kraal.
Joseph is Tengo's cousin (he is fourteen in Part One). He is the first one to introduce the reality of Apartheid to Tengo, and later appears as a crucial turning point in Tengo's decisions about his life.
Sissie is Frikkie's sister who cannot abide life on the farm. She has been taught to accept Apartheid.
Rev. Gilbert is a white reverend who tutors Tengo to help him pass his matriculation exams and get to college. Appears in Part Two.
Mrs. Miller is a white living in Johannesburg. She and her family, though "nicer" than other masters, still accept Apartheid and do nothing to change it. Appears in Part Two.
Claire Miller, daughter of Mrs. Miller, is a white liberal who feels sympathy for the blacks. However, she cannot do much to change it. Appears in Part Two.
Over the course of this, Tengo is also learning more about Apartheid and how it functions. His cousin Joseph, who lives in the squalid township of Johannesburg, visits one day and tells Tengo of the evils that must be faced every day there. Tengo's eyes are opened after this conversation, and through several more events, he is determined to go to Johannesburg to get an education. He gets permission and leaves for the city.
Kleinbass - "young master." Frikkie is referred to as this by the black servants.
Kaffir - a derogatory term directed at native South Africans. Used by whites to feel more in control.
Piccanin - a slightly derogatory term meaning one who is young and/or foolish.
Kraal - the dirty, poor, and squalid huts or villages that the native servants live in.