Bantu Dramatic Society

The Bantu Dramatic Society was founded in Johannesburg by Herbet Dhlomo in 1933 and was devoted to promoting black theatrical development. It was housed at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre, a club for educated Bantu men, and became a space for Black artistic and intellectual subcultures to meet. The aim of the society was “to perform European drama from time to time but will focus on encouraging Bantu playwrights to develop African dramatic and operatic art”. In doing so, the society had a specific way of working with ideas around European modernity.

The Society held its’ first production at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre on the 28th of April, 1933 written in Xhosa by a White woman, Oliver Goldsmith. The play was titled “She Stoops to Conquer” and it received controversial attention due to the writer of the play and the language it was written in. It was followed by “uNongqause”, a play based on the mythical tale of the Xhosa cattle-killing. This play received extreme criticism which then led Dhlomo to write his own version of the story.

Figures such as Sol Plaatjie and Peter Abrahams frequented there and shared in the ideals of the contemporary Afro-American ‘Black Consciousness’ that had been put into practice at the time.

The actors were known to have a ‘natural’ ability to act as the Society explored the freedom of languages including several of the Bantu languages. The Society believed that English did not allow the expression of tribal and cultural feelings among the educated Bantu men. This notion provided freedom and access to the communities own languages. This resulted in an awareness of the surrounding cultural life and the potential it held to go beyond the confines of language, culture and race and being able to share creatively. The performances by the Bantu Dramatic Society became a new bridge being built across a divide between the Black and White South Africans at the time.

Last updated : 23-Mar-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 23-Mar-2017