Media Statement: Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa pays tribute to theatre and film legend and National Order recipient Dr Winston Ntshona

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02 Aug 2018

With great sadness, Minister Nathi Mthethwa has learnt of the passing away of Dr Winston Ntshona at the age of 76 on Thursday morning.

Although he was a slight man in terms of his build, Dr Ntshona’s death reverberates like a giant has fallen. Dr Ntshona was a legend, a master of his craft, and a pioneer. In this day it is not uncommon to hear of South Africans performing their art on global stages, but Dr Ntshona was one of the first, when he appeared in Michael Hastings' monologue “Full Frontal” at the Royal Court Theatre in London. This appearance would be the first of many that would see him traverse prestigious theatre stages in the world including Broadway.

The name of Dr Ntshona is closely associated with that of Dr John Kani and Athol Fugard. It is just impossible to think of one, without the others. With Fugard and Kani, Ntshona wrote the 1973 play “The Island”, in which he and Kani starred in a number of major international productions over the next 30 years. He and Kani were co-winners of the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for their performance in both “The Island” and “Sizwe Banzi is Dead”, which he also co-wrote. In 2010, he was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his excellent contribution to theatre and the arts scene in South Africa. To quote the citation of that National Order:

“Indelible in all thespians and enthusiasts’ memory is an image of Winston Ntshona and John Kani as they rendered the politically loaded Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard. It was to define ‘protest theatre’ of the Port Elizabeth and later Market Theatre brand; directed and performed right under the authorities’ noses.

The Island was a pointed and partly humorous protest against the conditions in South Africa’s infamous Robben Island prison. Ntshona and Kani were arrested after a 1976 performance of the play. They were released, but did not perform The Island again in this country until 1995. They were also arrested after performing in a third collaboration with Fugard, Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act.”

Dr Ntshona’s legendary stature was not only limited to theatre. He played a series of film roles in the 1980s and 1990s- the most prominent was in 1989 in “A Dry White Season”, a hard-hitting anti-apartheid film in which his character enlists the help of a white South African, played by Hollywood legend Donald Sutherland, in finding out what became of his missing son. His other film roles comprise the screenplays “Night of the Cyclone” (1990), “The Power of One” (1992), “Tarzan and the Lost City” (1998) and more recently “Blood Diamond” (2006).

While Dr Ntshona’s passing is a great loss to South Africa, it is comforting to know that Dr Ntshona was bestowed heaps of honour while he lived. Honour befitting the great man, artist and thespian that he was. In 2012 streets in the arts precinct of Central in Port Elizabeth had their names changed in honour of Ntshona and fellow theatre stalwarts John Kani and Athol Fugard. Chapel Street was changed to Winston Ntshona Street. He was a dedicated member of the Arts and Culture Living Legends Legacy programme (LLLP)-  and a Lifetime Achievement Winner of the South African Film TV Awards (SAFTA).

“While we will dearly miss his dedication and passion for his craft which has paved the way for future generations. Dr Winston Ntshona’s legacy lives on through his incalculable and invaluable contribution to the Arts.”

Hon Nathi Mthethwa

On behalf of the Department of Arts and Culture, Minister Mthethwa wishes to extend his deepest condolences to the Ntshona Family: his wife, his children, grandchildren, the community of New Brighton Township where he lived, his extended family and all those he loved. May his soul be at eternal rest.

Phumla ngoxolo Nkomo, Mntungwa, Malinge, Yengwayo.     

For further information and interview requests, please contact: Asanda Magaqa, Spokesperson for the Minister of Arts and Culture- 072 372 6807 (Mobile) ; and asandam@dac.gov.za (Email).