Actor, playwright and mentor Winston Ntshona, who passed away on August 2 at the age of 76, was a pioneer in the manner that he used his acting talents to resist the absurdities of the apartheid regime.
His life’s work is not only intertwined with his fellow actors and playwrights such as John Kani and Athol Fugard but also with the actors he mentored and influenced, among them the likes of Sello Maake ka Ncube and Thembi Mtshali.
Known primarily for starring in the Fugard-directed plays Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, The Island and Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Ntshona has also enjoyed a lengthy film career, with roles in films such as A Dry White Season, The Wild Geese and Dogs of War. Performing both Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island in repertory on Broadway, Ntshona and Kani jointly bagged a Tony Award in 1975 for best actor in a play. These were roles the pair would play for over 30 years, starting from deep within the grip of apartheid to after its legislative demise.
While on a national tour in 1976, Ntshona and Kani were detained for several weeks following a performance of Sizwe Banzi Is Dead in the Transkei town of Butterworth. They emerged from the experience rather resolute, with Ntshona telling the press that being locked up was “second nature to us in our country.”
On hearing the news of Ntshona’s death, A Dry White Season director Euzhan Palcy told The Hollywood Reporter that with the role of Gordon, Ntshona had transcended mere acting. Production had to pause to calm emotions due to Ntshona’s powerful performances.
In 2010, he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in silver for his contribution to the arts.
Ntshona, who died in the Port Elizabeth township of New Brighton, will be buried on August 10.