South Africa has produced some incredible playwrights who have illuminated the human condition, moved us, made us laugh, and challenged the political systems in place in South Africa. Here are 10 famous South African playwrights.
Durbanite John van de Ruit is best known for his novel, “Spud”—a comedy about life in boarding school. An author, actor, playwright and producer, van de Ruit sold the rights to “Spud” and the book was turned into a movie in 2010. Van de Ruit co-wrote a popular sketch show, “Green Mamba,” which toured throughout South Africa.
Slovo was born in Johannesburg and she writes mainly in the crime and thriller genres. Her courtroom drama, “Red Dust” was made into a film starring Hilary Swank. Slovo co-wrote the play, “Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom” which played internationally. It includes the spoken and written testimony of five detainees at the U.S. base, along with testimony of lawyers and public officials.
Mhlophe is from Durban, South Africa and is a playwright, activist and freedom fighter. She acted in several plays before writing and acting in her autobiographical play, “Have You Seen Zandile?” which brought her to the Edinburgh festival in Scotland. She also acted in her one-woman show, “Love Child,” which brought her to the Solo Festival in Tokyo.
Guy Butler (1918 to 2001) was from Cape province (now Eastern province) in South Africa. He began writing while serving in the military in North Africa and eventually went onto study at the University of Oxford and to lead the English department at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Pictired here is a vintage photo of the campus. Butler’s first play, “The Dam,” received a prize at the Van Riebeeck Festival. He was also prolific poet.
Fugard is from Middelburg and his plays deal mainly with opposition to South African apartheid politics in the ’50s and ’60s. Fugard is known for writing dominant female characters and characters with secrets that create drama. His first international success was “The Blood Knot.” His plays have been produced in South Africa, London and New York. Also a novelist, actor, and director, Fugard wrote “Tsotsi,” the book that became the 2005 Academy Award-winning film,
Galgut is from Pretoria, South Africa and he wrote his first novel when he was just 17 years old. Many of Galgut’s stories are influenced by his time spent in and out of hospitals as a young boy, due to cancer. He earned international fame as a novelist for his work, “The Good Doctor,” and he has written several plays and taught drama at the University of Cape Town.
Kente was born in Duncan Village just outside of East London in Eastern Cape, South Africa. He’s considered the father of musical theater in townships in South Africa — his plays deal with social issues such as crime and poverty. Kente produced 23 plays and three TV dramas before dying from HIV/AIDS in 2004. Kente’s final play, “The Call,” is about a group of people educating others on HIV.
Van Wyk Louw was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and is one of the “Dertigers” — or writers of the ’30s — a group of famous Afrikaans-language poets of the 1930s. He received several prizes including the C.N.A. literary prize and the S.A.B.C. prize for radio plays.
Kani was born in New Brighton, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Kani was an actor as well as an unpublished author of many works before gaining fame for his plays, “Sizwe Banzi is Dead” and “The Island.” The latter, co-written by Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, is about two prisoners on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years, working on their appeals while performing theater for fellow inmates. Kani won Tony Awards for both.
Gordimer was born just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa and was a political activist and playwright. Gordimer’s works often addressed issues of politics and race. “Burger’s Daughter” and “July’s People” were banned during the apartheid era for that reason. Gordimer won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991. Gordimer died in July in Johannesburg.