Playing on the world’s stage

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iol travel feb 17 cw john kani

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NOVEL EXPERIENCE: John Kani was surprised to learn, like South Africa, Kenya also has townships. Picture: Cara Viereckl

Cape Town - Actor, director and playwright John Kani’s list of awards which he has received in his career for his performances as well as for his contribution to the arts is impressive. He has garnered great praise earning him respect and veneration worldwide.

The Tony Award-winner’s latest play Missing will be on at the Baxter from February 27 to March 29.

How widely have you travelled?

Well, I am blessed that I’ve been able to travel quite extensively due to the nature of my work.

I have been to the UK, to various countries in Europe (France, Germany, Italy and Serbia, to mention a few), North America, South America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and then, of course, throughout Africa and South Africa.

The only country that I have not been to yet is Russia.

Where was your favourite holiday or time spent abroad?

New York. Wow, that city has a heartbeat and pulse of its own. When you walk the streets of New York what you hear is a collection of different languages spoken combined with the distinctive New York ones, it is quite astounding.

You can meet South Africans, Africans, South Americans and Asians all just in one day.

The city is truly a melting pot and there is so much to do from museums, theatre, shopping, restaurants, the works, New York will have it.

Your worst experience on a holiday?

In 1976, Brisbane, Australia, I saw, for the first time, the conditions under which the Aboriginals were living and I was shocked. It made apartheid look a luxury.

At the time I remember my intense disappointment as the Australians were a big supporter of the freedom of our own country.

This really spoilt my time there, but then it was 1976, although the impact that it made on me was immense.

Your funniest experience?

When I visited a friend of mine in Kenya some years ago he decided to take me to the township.

I laughed and could not believe this, as Kenya had been independent for a long time already and surely they would not have townships.

I thought we only had those in South Africa, but we went and strangely enough there were townships in some places which were way worse than any of those in Soweto, New Brighton and the Cape Flats.

We had a good laugh because I could not have imagined that this was possible at the time.

What do you avoid during a holiday?

Public spaces where crowds are usually likely to take over my time with my family can often be a problem.

Somehow there is always somebody somewhere in the world who knows me or recognises me, so I have to talk to them. And then they want to know about South Africa or other such related questions.

It is really difficult when my family and I are simply trying to have a holiday without interruption.

Best meal abroad?

The pepper steak at Sardi’s in New York is to die for. I love steak, so the sauce that goes with the meat should be equally special. And yes, sir, these guys get it right.

Your favourite place to have sundowners on your travels?

I don’t drink but there is a spot next to the dam on my property which is a good place to relax and I don’t have to leave home.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I have learnt that the world is a truly beautiful place with lots of beautiful people. And everywhere in the world there are problems.

South Africa does not have the monopoly in injustices against its people.

Language is also not a barrier for people to get along, it’s the heart, the kindness and the willingness to engage with others with respect and dignity that counts.

Ideal travelling companion?

My wife of 38 years is my best travelling companion. She is still my girlfriend except that now we are married with seven children.

Culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Both, actually. I like fast cars and always secretly wanted to be Michael Schumacher.

Greatest travel luxury?

An empty suitcase is a must. For obvious reasons – to accommodate all the shopping.

Holiday reading?

Theatre is a very unfair art form as it monopolises one’s time constantly. If I am not writing then I am reading a play that I will be in and getting ready for or reading one that I need to comment or offer advice on. So there is not really that luxury of holiday reading.

However, I do love political thrillers so that often helps.

Favourite drive?

The drive from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth when I go to visit my family there is always my best. The anticipation of seeing them always fills me with joy.

Passing through Colesberg and Cradock and then hitting PE, it’s beautiful and has special childhood memories for me.

The return drive back to Joburg is usually boring for me.

Dream trip?

My trip would be arriving at my destination in under six hours, no matter where in the world.

I would love to go to Moscow.

The nostalgia of it being the centre of communism and the rich history that it carries resonate with me from my struggle days in South Africa.

As a seasoned traveller and flyer can you share some tips?

It is always good to have a set schedule of places that you are going to as well as a list of those that you would like to see or visit. This way you don’t waste time while in a foreign city.

Make sure you have sufficient money to cover your accommodation and food.

Alternatively make sure you have friends or relatives who live in whatever city you are visiting.

Where next?

It would probably be Moscow. That would be fulfilling a dream of mine. - Weekend Argus

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