on 5 April 2008
Some of these plays are written by Athol Fugard, others are the result of collaboration with actors from the Actors' Studio and The Serpent Players. He formed these companies with black actors from the townships during the apartheid era. Two of the actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, who developed and played the leading roles, share the copyright on two of these plays. Sizwe Bansi is Dead focuses on the Pass Laws: its central character, Sizwe Bansi faces the dilemma of losing his own identity by using a dead man's pass book if he is to find work and support his family. He is persuaded that he has no identity or dignity under South African law anyway: "When the white man looked at you at the Labour Bureau what did he see? A man with dignity or a bloody passbook with an NI number? ... When the white man sees you walk down the street and calls out, 'Hey, John! Come here'... to you, Sizwe Bansi... isn't that a ghost? Or when a little child calls you 'Boy'... you a man, circumcised, with a wife and four children?" The Island shows two men imprisoned on Robben Island, the infamous prison where political dissidents, including Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned. As well as dramatising a moving account of the hardships endured by prisoners, the play's two characters are preparing a performance of Sophocles' play Antigone in the prison, and the last scene shows the key moment of their production, which draws an unmistakable parallel between Antigone's situation and their own, as Antigone points out that she is guilty of following a higher, god-granted law rather than the legislated law, seeing in that a greater honour than following the laws of a tyrannical state. At the end of the play, Winston, playing Antigone, removes his costume to deliver Antigone's final lines: "Gods of our Fathers! My Land ! My Home! Time waits no longer. I go now to my living death, because I honoured those things to which honour belongs." These are fascinating, often moving plays, demonstrating the vibrancy and importance of art as a form of political protest and voice.