100 World Class South Africans: Athol Fugard & John Kani

2013-05-17 12:00

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Venerable storytellers

South Africa 1965. In a setting where racial segregation wasn’t just encouraged, it was demanded, an unlikely artistic ‘bromance’developed.

John Kani describes the day he met Athol Fugard as ‘the first time a white man had shaken my hand and told me his name’.

John Kani. Picture: Ruth Motau

It was the beginning of an extraordinary partnership.

By the time the two started making waves (and enemies in the apartheid government), Fugard had written a few plays.

The duo collaborated on Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island (in the early 1970s), landmark classics of Struggle theatre that made a huge impact locally and internationally – including being staged at the Edison Theatre in New York.

Kani, who also acted in the plays, and co-star Winston Ntshona, won Tony Awards.

Fugard would later receive a Special Tony for lifetime achievement in theatre, and his Master Harold and the Boys won the UK’s Evening Standard Award in 1983.

Athol Fugard. Picture: Taryn Carr

Kani’s first solo play, Nothing But the Truth (2002), was acclaimed worldwide, and he won an Obie Award in the US for his contribution to theatre, along with a Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation award.

Almost half a century later, Fugard and Kani’s works still fill theatres around the world.

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