South African Award-Winning Theatre Great Winston Ntshona passes away at 76

Iconic theatre great, and anti-apartheid activist Winston Ntshona, has died aged 76 in New Brighton, a township near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, after being ill for eight years.

The renowned black South African actor’s contribution to the South African entertainment industry is immeasurable and his immense contribution to the liberation struggle—using art to expose the evils and atrocities of the apartheid system—is well documented. His death was announced by the South African State Theater in Pretoria.

“It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of one of SA’s prolific actors and playwright – Winston Ntshona born 6 October 1941 in Port Elizabeth. Rest in peace fellow thespian and thank you for your contribution to the arts,” a post from the SA State theatre reads.

While most young people may be familiar with his more recent works such as his cameo appearance on The Heartlines: Grace and The Heartlines: The Bet, Winston has been shaping talent and creating amazing content for over five decades.

Mr. Ntshona, right, and Mr. Kani at a Tony nominees luncheon at Sardi’s restaurant in Manhattan in 1975. They shared the award that year for best actor in a play. Photo: Eddie Hausner/The New York Times

Ntshona started his career in 1965 when he formed the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth with playwright Athol Fugard and actor John Kani. From there, the pair created pioneering South African plays. The name of Winston Ntshona has since been closely associated with those of John Kani and Athol Fugard.

With Fugard and Kani, Ntshona wrote the 1973 play The Island, in which he and Kani starred in a number of major international productions of the play over the next 30 years. He and Kani were co-winners of the Tony Award for Best Actor on Broadway in a play for their performance in both The Island and Sizwe Banzi is Dead, which he also co-wrote. In 2010, he was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his excellent contribution to theatre and the arts scene in South Africa. And His love for the youth was shown in the way he trained and mentored young actors. Messages from fans and friends paying tribute to the icon have continued to pour in on Twitter.

Dr Ntshona’s legendary stature was not limited to theatre. He played a series of film roles in the 1980s and 1990s – the most prominent was in 1989 in A Dry White Season, a hard-hitting anti-apartheid film in which his character enlists the help of a white South African, played by Hollywood legend Donald Sutherland, in finding out what became of his missing son. His other film roles comprise the screenplays Night of the Cyclone(1990), The Power of One(1992), Tarzan and the Lost City (1998) and more recently Blood Diamond(2006). He also walked away with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Acting at the 2011 SAFTAS.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture, Ms Xoliswa Tom, joined the nation in extending heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and the creative industry on the death of the legendary playwright and actor.

“The creative industry is poorer today without Mr Ntshona who raised the country’s flag high on the global stage,” said Ms Tom. “He left an indelible mark in the industry and will be remembered for his excellent work, including raising awareness on the injustices in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid.”