Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

by

Athol Fugard

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Buntu Character Analysis

A native of Port Elizabeth, Buntu is well known for helping friends and acquaintances; he lets Sizwe Bansi stay at his house while Sizwe is looking for work in the city and avoiding the white authorities. A married man, Buntu hired Styles to take his wedding photos. As Buntu’s wife uses contraception, she and Buntu have only one child. The child stays with Buntu’s mother because Buntu and his wife work too much to do regular parenting—showing how apartheid South Africa’s racist laws and economic hierarchies limited Black people’s options and hindered them in fulfilling personal identities like family roles. Buntu, who can read, informs Sizwe that the white authorities have stamped his passbook to order him to return home. When Sizwe suggests various vague schemes for destroying his passbook and getting work, Buntu shoots him down, showing both Buntu’s practicality and his pessimism. Then Buntu offers to take Sizwe to an unlicensed bar and buy him drinks, revealing Buntu’s generosity. On the way home from the bar, Buntu and Sizwe discover a dead man in an alley—and Buntu urges Sizwe to take the dead man’s passbook, which contains a permit for seeking work in Port Elizabeth. That Buntu urges Sizwe to attempt this identity theft, despite Buntu’s usual pessimism, indicates his desire both to help Sizwe and to thwart racist apartheid laws. After coaching Sizwe on how to pretend to be the dead man, Robert Zwelinzima, Buntu becomes exhausted at the prospect that the police may catch Sizwe, wishes Sizwe luck, and leaves him alone. Buntu’s final reaction to Sizwe’s identity theft suggests that Sizwe’s dream of employment under a stolen identity may ultimately be an illusion due to the racist apartheid government’s power.

Buntu Quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

The Sizwe Bansi Is Dead quotes below are all either spoken by Buntu or refer to Buntu. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
).
Sizwe Bansi Is Dead Quotes

STYLES: Always helping people. If that man was white they’d call him a liberal.

Related Characters: Styles (speaker), Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man, Buntu
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

MAN: I don’t want to leave Port Elizabeth.

BUNTU: Maybe. But if that book says go, you go.

MAN: Can’t I maybe burn this book and get a new one?

BUNTU: Burn that book? Stop kidding yourself, Sizwe! Anyway, suppose you do. You must immediately go apply for a new one. Right? And until that new one comes, be careful the police don’t stop you and ask for your book. Into the Courtroom, brother. Charge: Failing to produce Reference Book on demand. Five rand or five days.

Related Characters: Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker), Buntu (speaker)
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 171–172
Explanation and Analysis:

BUNTU: I’m also married. One child.

MAN: Only one?

BUNTU: Ja, my wife attends this Birth Control Clinic rubbish. The child is staying with my mother.

Related Characters: Buntu (speaker), Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker), Nowetu
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

BUNTU: That’s it, brother. The only time we’ll find peace is when they dig a hole for us and press our face into the earth.

Related Characters: Buntu (speaker), Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

MAN: It will tell you in good English where he stays. My passbook talks good English too . . . big words that Sizwe can’t read and doesn’t understand. Sizwe wants to stay here in New Brighton and find a job; passbook says, ‘No! Report back.’

Sizwe wants to feed his wife and children; passbook says, ‘No.’

Related Characters: Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker), Buntu (speaker), Nowetu
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

MAN: [Turning away from Buntu to the audience.]

What’s happening in this world, good people? Who cares for who in this world? Who wants who?

Who wants me, friend? What’s wrong with me? I’m a man. I’ve got eyes to see. I’ve got ears to listen when people talk. I’ve got a head to think good things. What’s wrong with me?

[Starts to tear off his clothes.]

Look at me! I’m a man. I’ve got legs. I can run with a wheelbarrow full of cement! I’m strong! I’m a man. Look! I’ve got a wife. I’ve got four children. How many has he made, lady? [The man sitting next to her.] Is he a man? What has he got that I haven’t . . . .?

Related Characters: Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker), Buntu
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

MAN: [handing it over]. Take it, Buntu. Take this book and read it carefully, friend, and tell me what it says about me. Buntu, does that book tell you I’m a man?

[Buntu studies the two books. Sizwe turns back to the audience.]

That bloody book . . . ! People, do you know? No! Wherever you go . . . it’s that bloody book. You go to school, it goes too. Go to work, it goes too. Go to church and pray and sing lovely hymns, it sits there with you. Go to hospital to die, it lies there too!

Related Characters: Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker), Buntu
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 182–183
Explanation and Analysis:

BUNTU: It’s your only chance!

MAN: No, Buntu! What’s it mean? That me, Sizwe Bansi . . .

BUNTU: Is dead.

MAN: I’m not dead, friend.

BUNTU: We burn this book . . . [Sizwe’s original] . . . and Sizwe Bansi disappears off the face of the earth.

Related Characters: Buntu (speaker), Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker)
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books, Photos
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

BUNTU: When the white man sees you walk down the street and calls out, ‘Hey, John! Come here’ . . . to you, Sizwe Bansi . . . isn’t that a ghost? Or when his little child calls you ‘Boy’ . . . you a man, circumcised, with a wife and four children . . . isn’t that a ghost? Stop fooling yourself. All I’m saying is be a real ghost, if that is what they want, what they’ve turned us into.

Related Characters: Buntu (speaker), Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

BUNTU [angry]. All right! Robert, John, Athol, Winston . . . Shit on names, man! To hell with them if in exchange you can get a piece of bread for your stomach and a blanket in winter.

Related Characters: Buntu (speaker), Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

MAN: A black man stay out of trouble? Impossible, Buntu. Our skin is trouble.

Related Characters: Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker), Buntu, Nowetu
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
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Buntu Character Timeline in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

The timeline below shows where the character Buntu appears in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sizwe Bansi Is Dead
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
...Zwelinzima and says he’s staying at Fifty Mapija street. Styles asks whether he’s staying with Buntu; Robert says he is. Styles speaks approvingly of Buntu’s kindness and quips, “If that man... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
To avoid the official, Robert goes to stay with a friend of Zola’s named Buntu. At Buntu’s house, “Robert” introduces himself to Buntu as Sizwe Bansi. Buntu explains that they’re... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
Buntu asks to see Sizwe’s passbook. When Buntu asks whether Sizwe understands the stamp, Sizwe explains... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Sizwe suggests he may get a job as a gardener. Buntu informs him that “little white ladies” who advertise jobs like that in the papers only... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Sizwe suggests that maybe he could start a small potato-selling business. Buntu asks where Sizwe would get the money to buy the potatoes. He also points out... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Struck by Sizwe’s desire to live, Buntu sits down and questions Sizwe about his wife Nowetu and his children. He learns that... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Sizwe asks, “Why is there so much trouble?” Buntu tells him about a speech a preacher gave at a funeral Buntu attended in a... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
...place, and invites the audience to follow him inside. Then he starts yelling for “Mr Buntu.” Buntu enters a little tipsily, looks at the audience, and asks where Sizwe met them.... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Buntu tells the audience that in Sky’s place, a Member of the Advisory Board asked Sizwe... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
Buntu checks his watch, suggests they go home, and asks Sizwe to lead. Sizwe asks whether... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Sizwe, hesitating, tells Buntu they should go to the police. Buntu says if Sizwe, “drunk, passbook not in order,”... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
While Buntu is gone, Sizwe notes that his passbook, like the dead man’s, “talks good English,” forbidding... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
When Buntu sees that the dead man lived in “Single Men’s Quarters,” he refuses to go there... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
...the woman next to him how many children he has and whether he’s a man. Buntu walks to Sizwe, holding the dead man’s passbook, and asks to see Sizwe’s. Sizwe, giving... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
Buntu picks up Sizwe’s clothing and orders Sizwe to follow him. Back at Buntu’s house, Sizwe... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Sizwe asks what will happen to his wife, Nowetu, and their children if he’s dead. Buntu says Nowetu can marry the new Robert Zwelinzima, who will finally be able to support... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
Buntu sees that he has partially persuaded Sizwe and acts out a scene in which a... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Now Buntu pretends to be a salesman at Sales House and asks Sizwe’s name. Sizwe says his... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
Now Buntu pretends to be a preacher at a sermon Sizwe is attending wearing a new suit.... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Finally, Buntu pretends to be a policeman and seizes Sizwe from behind. When Sizwe looks scared, Buntu... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
Getting serious again, Buntu says that if he had the chance to achieve his heart’s desire and help his... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
Buntu tells Sizwe that the original Robert Zwelinzima’s soul is wishing them success. Sizwe asks how... (full context)