Winston Ntshona
Winston Ntshona
Winston Ntshona, left, as Sizwe, and John Kani as Buntu in the play ‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’ at the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, April 8, 2008. Picture: The New York Times
Winston Ntshona, left, as Sizwe, and John Kani as Buntu in the play ‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’ at the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, April 8, 2008. Picture: The New York Times
Winston Ntshona, acclaimed actor and playwright, has died after a long illness. He was 76.

Ntshona died last Thursday in New Brighton, just outside Port Elizabeth.

Born in Port Elizabeth, he studied at Newell High School where he performed in productions with fellow actor John Kani.

He and Kani worked in a factory during the 1960s before both men joined the mixed-race theatre group the Serpent Players in 1967, which was founded by Athol Fugard.

The apartheid laws at the time prohibited blacks from being employed as artists or actors and Kani and Ntshona were classified as servants to Fugard.

The trio were a formidable force together and co-wrote the plays Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island in 1973 and performed them on Broadway in 1974 and 1975.

Ntshona and Kani were given the unique distinction of being co-winners of the Tony award for Best Actor in a Play for their various roles in The Island and Sizwe Banzi is Dead.

Kani said on Twitter: “It is with great sadness that I received the news of the passing of my dearest brother Winston Ntshona this morning in Port Elizabeth. To his wife and family I share your pain. He was my brother.”

His friend Fugard said he had lost a “brother” but said that the legacy he left behind inspired younger actors.

“With the passing of beautiful Winston, I have lost a dearly-beloved brother. A big tree has fallen in the forest. Fortunately for us survivors, there are young ones now growing taller,” he said.

Ntshona’s screen debut was in the British film The Wild Geese, which was released in 1978 and starred Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger.

He played a similar role in The Dogs of War and his other film credits included roles in Ashanti, Gandhi, Night of the Cyclone, The Power of One, The Air Up There and Tarzan and the Lost City.

Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa expressed his condolences to the Ntshona family in a statement.

“While Ntshona’s passing is a great loss to South Africa, it is comforting to know that he was bestowed with heaps of honours while he lived. Honour befitting the great man, artist and thespian that he was.”

In 2010, he was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his excellent contribution to theatre and the arts scene.

President Cyril Ramaphosa extended his condolences in a statement to the Ntshona family, friends, colleagues and comrades. He also declared a provincial official funeral for Ntshona.

The funeral was held on Friday in Port Elizabeth.

Ntshona is survived by his son, Lawula.