Legendary John Kani’s fight with apartheid
APARTHEID is the worst time South Africa has ever had and no country should ever go through that system ever. This is according to legendary Thespian Dr John Kani, who himself survived 11 stab wounds and a few death threats back in the time of the National Party rule in South Africa.
Speaking exclusively to the African Times at the Market Theatre in Newtown Johannesburg, where he is currently featuring in an Athol Fugard play titled the Train Driver, Kani opened up about the horrors of apartheid and how he was stabbed.
“We were in Cape Town performing Miss Jullie and there is a scene that requires me to kiss a white woman, which I did to the white audience dismay, half of them walked out. After that performance the security police would be on my case always. It was during that same year that I was stabbed 11 times and left for dead,” he says with a chuckle.
Kani, who has received two honorary Doctorates from The University of Durban Westville and The University of Cape Town respectively, survived many assassination attempts and also lost his left eye to a beating from apartheid police that caused him to wear a prosthetic eye.Kani further narrates that after appearing in Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi Is dead abroad, that addressed the apartheid regime’s pass laws, he received a phone call that lured him from his home by a farce that his father was calling for him only to be surrounded by the police and beaten to a pulp.
“Winston Ntsona and I were detained for 90 days because of performing Sizwe Banzi Is dead. I remember once when I was performing abroad and met Thabo Mbeki, who was in exile. He said to me that we should not deny to the police when we got home the fact that we had met them. It was to make sure that they knew that the ANC was still alive and fighting,” he said with a beaming face.
“Apartheid was terrible. Growing up my world was my father’s four room house in New Brighton and we would go into town on Weekends. We had a ritual to stop drinking water on Friday nights because there were no toilets for black people in our city.
His love for drama had been cemented when he joined the Serpent Players drama group where he met Athol Fugard in 1965. The pair worked together in numerous plays and their work was crucial in showcasing the horrors of the apartheid system to the world.
Dr Kani’s passion for acting came about when he was in High school where he met Wiston Ntsona who won the Tony award together with Kani for best actors in both Sizwe Banzi is dead and the Island.
The Tony award is handed out in the United States of America for outstanding work in theatre productions on Broadway.
However, Kani says that his father did not support his passion for acting at first and that he took him to a sangoma (traditional healer) when he realised that he wanted to do acting instead of continuing at his first job at Ford motor company, where he earned R32 a week.
“It was so funny how my father dreaded my passion for acting. He took me to a sangoma and when we got there the sangoma told him that there were people who were jealous around my father and so they wanted to get to him through me and they had bewitched me to do stupid things, referring to acting,” the thespian says with loud laughter. Kani has since gone on to star in various stage and stage productions across the world as well as local and international films most recently featuring in a leading role in the box office hit, Black Panther. He is also set to star in the upcoming adaptation of one of Disney’s most iconic films, The Lion King.Artistic Director at the
Market Theatre James Ncobo says that Kani is the custodian of the Market Theatre. “When I close my eyes and hope to be inspired about acting. I can’t help but think of Bra John. The man is such an inspiration,” said Ncobo.DR Kani is currently featuring in a play written by Fugard at the Market Theatre that ends on the 4TH of June 2018
Veteran South African actor, director and playwright John Kani