John Kani

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John Kani
John Kani.jpg
Kani in 2007
Bonisile John Kani

(1942-08-30) 30 August 1942 (age 76)
NationalitySouth African
Years active1965–present
ChildrenAtandwa Kani
HonoursOrder of Ikhamanga in Silver[1]

Bonisile John Kani (born 30 August 1942) is a South African actor, director, and playwright.

Personal life[edit]

Kani was born in New Brighton, Eastern Cape, South Africa.[1] In 1985, after appearing in Athol Fugard's anti-apartheid play, "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead", which he also cowrote, Kani returned to South Africa. There he received a phone call saying that his father wanted to see him. On the way there, Kani says he was surrounded by police, who beat him and left him for dead. His left eye was lost in the incident and he now wears a prosthetic.[2]

His son Atandwa is also an actor, who made his debut on U.S. television on the CW series Life Is Wild, and played a younger version of Kani's character T'Chaka in Black Panther.[3]


Kani joined the Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.

These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. He also received an Olivier Award nomination for his role in My Children! My Africa!

Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (which ran 159 performances) and The Island. These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.

In 1987 Kani played Othello in a performance of Shakespeare's play of the same name in South Africa which was still under apartheid. "At least I'll be able to kiss Desdemona without leaving a smudge." he said then.[4]

Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa and does not concern the conflicts between whites and blacks, but the rift between blacks who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated regime folded. It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for best actor and best new South African play. In the same year he was also awarded a special Obie award for his extraordinary contribution to theatre in the United States.

Kani is executive trustee of the John Kani Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the John Kani Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA. He starred as T'Chaka in the Marvel studios blockbusters Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther.

In 2019, Kani voiced Rafiki in the CGI remake The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau.[5]

Kani's play, Kunene and the King, a co-production for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Fugard Theatre, played in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2019 before transferring back to Cape Town.[6]

Other recognition and awards[edit]

On 20 February 2010, Kani received Life Time award (SAFTA Awards). Kani has also received the Avanti Hall of Fame Award from the South African film, television and advertising industries, an M-Net Plum award and a Clio award in New York. Other awards include the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation Award for the year 2000 and the Olive Schreiner Prize for 2005. He was voted 51st in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004. In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town.[7] Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in 2013.[8]

In 2016 Kani received the national honour of the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, for his "Excellent contributions to theatre and, through this, the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa".[1]

The main theatre of the Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg, has been renamed The John Kani Theatre in his honour.[9]


Film and television[edit]

Television roles
Year Title Role Notes
1974 BBC2 Playhouse Styles / Buntu Episode: "Sizwe Bansi Is Dead"
2nd House Episode: "Athol Fugard"
1978 Play for Today George O'Brien Episode: "Victims of Apartheid"
1985 "Master Harold"...and the Boys Willie TV Movie
1986 Miss Julie John TV Movie
1989 Othello Othello TV Movie
1997 Kap der Rache Inspektor Khumalo German TV Movie
2006 Hillside Dr. Vincent Maloka 1 episode
2008 The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Daddy Bapetsi Episode: "Pilot"
Silent Witness Dr. Phiri 2 episode
2012 iNkaba Mkhuseli Mthetho 1 episode
2015 Wallander Max Khulu Episode: "The White Lioness"
Film roles
Year Title Role Notes
1978 The Wild Geese Sgt. Jesse Link
1980 Marigolds in August Melton
1981 Killing Heat Moses
1987 Saturday Night at the Palace September
An African Dream Khatana
1989 Options Jonas Mabote
A Dry White Season Julius
The Native Who Caused All the Trouble Tselilo Mseme
1992 Sarafina! School Principal
1995 Soweto Green: This Is a 'Tree' Story Dr. Curtis Tshabalala
1996 The Ghost and the Darkness Samuel
1997 Kini and Adams Ben
1998 The Tichborne Claimant Bogle
2001 Final Solution Rev. Peter Lekota
2007 The Bird Can't Fly Stone
2008 Nothing but the Truth Sipho
2009 Endgame Oliver Tambo
2010 White Lion Old Gisani
2011 Coriolanus General Cominius
Janapriyan Indian Movie
How to Steal 2 Million Julius Twala Snr. South African Movie
2012 Jail Caesar Marius
2016 The Suit Mr. Maphikela Short film
Captain America: Civil War T'Chaka
2018 Black Panther
2019 Murder Mystery Colonel Ulenga
The Lion King Rafiki (voice)


  • Nothing But the Truth (2002)


  1. ^ a b c "Bonisile John Kani (1943 - )". The Presidency. 30 August 1943. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-11.
  2. ^ Britt, Donna (26 September 1989). "APARTHEID THROUGH AN ANGRY LENS". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 April 2018. Kani lost his eye when he returned to South Africa after appearing in Athol Fugard's anti-apartheid play, "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead," here and in New York. The actor was lured from his home by a telephone caller who said Kani was wanted at his father's home. On the way there, Kani says he was surrounded by police, who beat him and left him for dead. External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ "John Kani on Black Panther premiere: 'I knew we would introduce a different African'". TimesLIVE.
  4. ^ "[From our archives] 20 bizarre apartheid moments | Opinion | Analysis | M&G". 26 April 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  5. ^ Gonzalez, Umberto; Verhoeven, Beatrice (7 August 2017). "'Lion King' Rafiki Casting: John Kani, 'Civil War' Star, to Play Wise Baboon (Exclusive)". TheWrap. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  6. ^ "About the play | Kunene and the King | Royal Shakespeare Company".
  7. ^ "Honorary doctorates for June graduation". Electronic Monday Paper. University of Cape Town. 12 June 2006. Retrieved 7 August 2006.[dead link] Vol 25 No 14
  8. ^ "NMMU to honour John Kani". Port Elizabeth Herald. 10 April 2013. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  9. ^ "The Main Theatre is renamed to honour Dr. John Kani". Archived from the original on 10 June 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016.

External links[edit]