Legendary Actor, Writer, Director John Kani to visit Carleton April 13–19

27 March 2024
3 separate images. On the left there are 3 people walking down the street side by side. The image in the center is of a man smiling, just the image of his chest up. The image on the right is one of two men in white coats. One has a brown bowtie and is looking off in the distance and the other is smiling at his.

The extraordinary South African theater and film artist John Kani will visit Carleton this Spring, for a week of public events and class visits that will showcase his remarkable career which has spanned six decades and ranged from the anti-apartheid work of the Market Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa to the Marvel Universe.

His visit will include a screening of BLACK PANTHER on Sunday, April 14 at 6:00 p.m. in the Weitz Cinema, followed by a question-and-answer session with Dr. Kani. The following evening, Monday, April 15, will feature a reading of the play THE ISLAND, written by Kani together with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona. The reading will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Weitz Theater. The week concludes on Friday, April 19, with a roundtable discussion of Kani’s entire career on the stage of Kracum Performance Hall. Hosted by Carleton faculty members Andrew Carlson, Pierre Hecker and Cherif Keita, this conversation will begin at 7:00 p.m. All events are linked below and are free and open to the public.

Actor, director and playwright John Kani was born in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, in 1943, and started his career in the same city with the Serpent Players Drama Group. In 1986, he joined the Market Theatre in Johannesburg where he appeared in — among others — The Blood Knot, Driving Miss Daisy, The Native Who Caused All the Trouble, Othello, The Lion and the Lamb, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, The Island, Waiting for Godot, The Death of Bessie Smith, Playland, Duet for One, My Children! My Africa!, Hedda Gabler, Dance of Death, and Ladies and Gentlemen, Shakespeare!

With Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, Kani co-wrote Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island. Both plays premiered at The Space in Cape Town (in ’72 and ’73 respectively) before moving to London’s Royal Court Theatre and then the Edison Theatre in New York, where the two plays were performed in repertory. On the strength of their New York runs, Kani received in 1974 / 75 Tony Award for Best Actor. He also has two OBIE Awards.

In 1989, Kani and Barney Simon founded the Market Theatre Laboratory, a drama school for black youths unable to study at university. With a track record of finding new talent and an extensive outreach program, the Laboratory has produced more than 300 actors working in theatre, film and television.

Aside from his work in theatre, Kani has helmed several commercials, winning the M-Net Plum Award and the CLIO Award in New York. His work has also earned him the Avanti Hall of Fame Award from the South African film, television and advertising industries. He was also awarded the Hiroshima Foundation for Peace through Dialogue in Stockholm Sweden.

Kani has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates. The University of Durban-Westville awarded him a Doctor of Philosophy in 1995, and the University of Rhodes in Grahamstown awarded him a Doctorate in Literature in 1998. This was followed by another Doctor of Literature in 2006, awarded by the University of Cape Town, and the Nelson Mandela University awarded him an honorary Ph.D. for his contribution to the arts and to the struggle for liberation in South Africa. He also received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2020.

Kani has also received numerous awards. Aside from the aforementioned Tony, he received a Titan of the Century Award in 2000 by Tribute Magazine’s Black Business Forum who named him “The Best Performing Artist of the 20th Century.” In 2004, Kani received a Leadership and Service Award from South African Breweries for his contribution to the arts in South Africa.

The English Academy of Southern Africa awarded Kani the Olive Schreiner Prize for his play, Nothing but the Truth, which has since been turned into a film, directed by Kani, which went on to win several awards, including the Silver Stallion at FESPACO (the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), and Best Film at both the Milan International and Cameroon Film Festivals. Nothing but the Truth has since been prescribed as a grade 12 textbook in South Africa. Also at FESPACO

In 2009, Kani was awarded the inaugural Ousmane Sembene Award for his contribution to the film industry Africa.

In 2005, the President of South Africa honoured Kani with the Order of Ikhamanga Silver in recognition of his contribution to the struggle for a free South Africa, in particular his contribution to a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. He was subsequently appointed to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council of National Orders and Awards.

The Market Theatre renamed their main theatre the John Kani Theatre in 2015, and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Council of Port Elizabeth renamed Whites Road the John Kani Road in his honour in 2017. The following year, Kani was awarded the John F. Kennedy Gold Medal Award. That same year, South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture awarded him an USIBA Award for his service to South Africans through the arts.

Also in 2018, Kani received the Sortugui Afrique Cinema Honour in Burkina Faso for his contribution to the African film industry. The following year, Kani joined the likes of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Harry Belafonte when he received the Voices of Freedom Award for his contribution to peace through dialogue.

In 2022, Kani received the Pragnell Shakespeare Award for Kunene and the King, which he wrote and performed in alongside Sir Antony Sher. In 2021 the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrated their 60th Anniversary, with Kunene and the King included amongst the best 10 plays they have produced. John was awarded the Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award for making Shakespeare accessible to all.

Kani continues to work in film and television, and is regularly on tour around the world. In August 2023 the Minister of Sports Arts and Culture Mr Zizi Kodwa honoured Kani with the Van Toeka Af Legends Award for his long life dedication to the service to the Creative Industry on his 80th Birthday.

In October 2023 King Charles III of the United Kingdom bestowed upon him the Officer of the Most Excellent Order Of The Order of the British Empire, OBE, for his service to the arts and culture globally.

In February 2024 the Department of International Relations and Cooperation – DIRCO-Minister Naledi Pando honoured him with The UBUNTU ARTS and CULTURAL DIPLOMACY AWARD (VETERAN) for representing South Africa Globally as a Cultural Ambassador for over 50 years.