Winston Ntshona

Posted by Leander on

Biographical information


Actor and playwright 

First name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
6 October 1941
Location of birth: 
Port Elizabeth

Wintson Ntshona was born on 6 October 1941 in Port Elizabeth. He matriculated from Newell High School where he performed in school plays with John Kani. During the 1960s Winston worked at the Ford Motor Company plant in Port Elizabeth.

In 1967, Ntshona joined the Serpent Players drama group where he continued working with Kani and also collaborated with Athol Fugard. One of the plays that emerged in 1972 was Sizwe Bansi is Dead, acollaboration between Kani, Fugard and Winston Ntshona. This was followed by The Island in 1973. Sizwe Banzi is Dead addresses the apartheid regime’s restrictive pass laws while The Island is inspired by a true story and is set in an unnamed prison. Ntshona appeared in around 20 Serpent Players productions between 1967 and 1972.

The two plays were widely performed in South African and internationally.  In 1974 the two plays went on tour. In New York Ntshona received international recognition when he and Kani were awarded a Tony for best actor for both plays. Along with performing the plays, Kani and Ntshona conducted workshops in New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles. In New York the two plays ran for 52 performances at the Edison Theatre on Broadway.

On their return to South African in 1976 Kani and Ntshona began to tour rural areas of the country with Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island and conducted drama groups where ever the plays were performed. Ntshona and Kani were arrested and detained. They were released after mass demonstrations but did not perform The Island again until 1995. Ntshona and Kani were also arrested after a third collaboration with Fugard, entitled Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act

Ntshona’s success in New York led to a series of film roles in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1978 he played the deposed President Julius Limbani (based on Moise Tshombe, a Congolese politician), the subject of a rescue attempt in the film The Wild Geese. This included a small role in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and a Dry White Season with Donald Sutherland in 1989. The film follows Ntshona’s character who enlists the help of a White South African, played by Sutherland, in finding out what became of his missing son under the apartheid regime. In 1984, Ntshona reunited with Kani and Fugard in the drama Marigolds in August. Ntshona also appeared in numerous theatrical productions such as the London run of Edward Albee’s The Death of Bessie Smithand a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

In 2002 Nthsona directed a new play Ghetto Goats which had been created by three young actors from Port Elizabeth. On 27 April 2010, Ntshona was award The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for “His excellent contribution to theatre and the arts scene in South Africa.”Ntshona took a post as the chairman of the Eastern Cape Cultural Units arts agency working to interest young South Africans in theatre. He was also honoured with a Living Treasures award from South Africa’s National Arts Council. 

• The Presidency, Republic of South Africa, 2010. ‘The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver: Winston Ntshona (1941- )’ at The Presidency Republic of South Africa[online]. Available at[19 October 2012]
•, 2012. ‘Gale Contemporary Black Biography: Winston Ntshona’ at Answers [online]. Available at[19 October 2012]

Last updated : 04-Jan-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Jan-2013