Winston Ntshona (1941 - )
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Winston Ntshona
Indelible in all thespians and enthusiasts’ memory is an image of Winston Ntshona and John Kani as they rendered the politically loaded Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard. It was to define “protest theatre” of the Port Elizabeth and later Market Theatre brand; directed and performed right under the authorities’ noses.
Ntshona was born on 6 October 1941 in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape. His remarkable stage chemistry with Kani began to take shape as the two performed in plays together in high school.
Ntshona’s later success in New York led to a series of film roles in the 1980s and 1990s. His most substantial film role came 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 veteran Donald Sutherland, in finding out what became of his missing son.
One of the most widely acclaimed plays internationally during the last decades of the 20th century was The Island, which began its theatrical life in secret performances held in apartheid-era South Africa in 1973. The play was partly the creation of Ntshona, one of the actors who appeared in it.
The Island was a pointed and partly humorous protest against the conditions in South Africa’s infamous Robben Island prison. Ntshona and Kani were arrested after a 1976 performance of the play. They were released, but did not perform The Island again in this country until 1995. They were also arrested after performing in a third collaboration with Fugard, Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act.
The Island and its companion piece Sizwe Banzi Is Dead have been staged in London; on Broadway in New York (where Ntshona and his co-star Kani won Tony Awards in 1975); and in Orlando, Florida, where The Island was performed by incarcerated teenage drug offenders.
These successes launched a long acting career for Ntshona, who starred in some key anti-apartheid films and became a leading figure on the South African arts scene.
Ntshona also appeared in other theatrical productions, including a London run of Edward Albee’s The Death of Bessie Smith and a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play that had influenced the two-person format of The Island.
In London in 2002, he directed a new play, Ghetto Goats, which was collaboratively created by three young actors from Port Elizabeth, working in much the same way as he himself had 30 years earlier.