Athol Fugard, born Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard in the remote village of Middleburg on 11 June 1932, grew up in Port Elizabeth. His father was Afrikaner and his mother English-speaking.
Fugard enrolled at the University of Cape Town but did not finish his studies, dropping out to travel in Africa and the world. He found work on a ship, and travelled around the world for two years before returning home. He found a job as a court clerk and through this was able to witness the destruction on humans by the apartheid system.
Athol Fugard started writing after a brief spell at acting. His first work in theatres was a piece called the The Rehearsal Room. Fugard wrote, acted, and directed this play which with its multiracial cast openly rejected segregation in South African theatres. This led to most of his works being banned by the government.
In 1958, Fugard produced No Good Friday. In this play Fugard shared the stage with Zakes Mokae. This play was followed by Nongogo (Prostitute) in 1959. In the 1960s, Fugard returned to Port Elizabeth where he partnered with The Serpent Players. The following year he wrote his first international success The Blood Knot. This play confronted apartheid so effectively that the government withdrew his passport.
However, this did not stop Fugard from supporting an international boycott against South Africa. The government later relaxed the restriction, allowing him to visit England to direct a play he had written, Boesman and Lena. Another play, A Lesson from Aloes won him an international award in 1980 from the New York Critics Circle.
Even though Fugard is lesser known in South Africa, his plays have attracted the attention of actors Danny Glover and James Earl Jones, who acted in The Blood Knot and Master Harold ”¦and the Boys.
Fugard is an accomplished actor, having played Jan Smuts in the famous film Gandhi. He continues to write and act, his latest work being The Captain’s Tiger published in 1999.
A list of Fugard’s Plays:
1958 No-Good Friday
1959 Nongogo (Prostitute)
1961 The Blood Knot, updated as Blood Knot in 1985
1965 Hello and Goodbye
1968 People are living there
1969 Boesman and Lena
1972 Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act
1968 Sizwe Bansi is Dead improvised by Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona
1973 The Island
1975 Dimetos (revised 1976)
1978 A Lesson from Aloes
1984 The Road to Mecca
1985 Blood Knot (revised as, The Blood Knot)
1987 A Place with the Pigs
1989 My Children! My Africa!
1996 A Valley Song
1999 The Captain's Tiger