Dr. John Kani is a celebrated South African actor and playwright best known for his numerous performances in protest theatre during the apartheid years, including Sizwe Bansi is Dead, Master Harold and the Boys, Saturday Night at the Palace, The Island and My Children! My Africa!.
Kani was born in New Brighton, South Africa.
He 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in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.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 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 and The Island. These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.
His performance in Miss Julie in Cape Town in 1982 caused massive controversy when he kissed a white woman on stage. Death threats followed and John wound up in hospital with eleven stab wounds.
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 USA.
Kani is executive trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the Market Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA.
He starred as Mkhuseli Mthetho in the Mzansi Magic telenovela Inkaba from 2012-2013, which he also created.