As Athol Fugard’s Apartheid era classic, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, arrives at the Albany, our Marketing Intern, Megan Bommarito, takes a look at the history of the Tony-nominated play.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead, recognised as a cornerstone of the global anti-apartheid movement, is a gripping and thought-provoking tale of identity and the dehumanising nature of apartheid in South Africa. This significant revival of a theatrical classic arrives at the Albany soon after the 20th anniversary celebrations marking the inauguration of Nelson Mandela and the end of the apartheid. Sizwe Banzi is Dead is a play that examines the meaning of self and the inner turmoil of humanity and which resonates both individually and universally because of its importance in history and its relevance today.
In 1948 apartheid (‘total segregation’) became institutionalised across South Africa, separating and imprisoning non-white South Africans as the new all-white government began to take hold. Sizwe Banzi is Dead, written by Athol Fugard in collaboration with John Kani and Winston Ntshona who both starred in the original production, centres around Fugard’s experiences as a law clerk at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg. Fugard, hailed by Time Magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world”, was born to a Polish/Irish father and an Afrikaner mother in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He experienced the brutalities of apartheid first-hand in his years as a clerk before becoming a playwright in the hope to expose the true nature of the injustices of South Africa. Read more about the history of the apartheid here and Athol Fugard here.
At the time of its conception, Sizwe Banzi is Dead was a highly controversial political piece that swept the country. Debuted on 8 October 1972 at the Space Theatre in Cape Town, it was, along with Fugard’s The Island, a bold stand against apartheid, even leading to the arrest of Kani and Ntshona for its performance in Umtata in 1976. The trio brought Sizwe Banzi is Dead to a number of venues within the black community, from schools to family centres, angering many of the South African authorities and creating an air of defiance around the performances. In the original production, the performance opened each night with a monologue improvised using the news of the day as inspiration. The play made its debut in Britain a little more than a year later, winning The London Theatre Critics award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play following its premiere in New York in 1974.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead is more than a play about the trials of one man during apartheid: it is a profound look at the struggle for freedom in the throngs of oppression that begs the existential question of what it means to be. Even today, Sizwe Banzi is Dead remains painfully relevant and has been beautifully revived by Matthew Xia, featuring the acting of Sibusiso Mambo and Tonderai Munyevu. Their performance delivers a clear message of the universal struggle of the human spirit and speaks volumes about the importance of freedom that resonates even today.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead is at the Albany Tuesday 27 May – Saturday 31 May with performances at 7.45pm and a Saturday matinee at 2:30pm. For more information and to book tickets, click here.
Megan Bommarito, Marketing Intern, The Albany