Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

by

Athol Fugard

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Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man Character Analysis

Sizwe Bansi is a nervous yet hopeful Black South African man living under apartheid. He comes from a rural area around a small city, King William’s Town. Married to Nowetu, Sizwe believes being a man means supporting her and their children—but he cannot find work near home. He travels to a larger city, Port Elizabeth, to find a job. When white authorities discover Sizwe’s passbook does not prove that he’s allowed to be in Port Elizabeth, they stamp his passbook, but Sizwe, who cannot read, doesn’t know what the stamp says. A friendly acquaintance, Buntu, informs Sizwe the stamp orders him to go home. That the authorities are indifferent to Sizwe’s responsibilities as a husband and father shows how officially imposed racial identities interfered with Black South Africans’ ability to fulfill their personal identities. Sizwe suggests burning his passbook and becoming a gardener or potato-seller—but Buntu shoots these ideas down, pointing out that Black men in South Africa are legally required to carry passbooks. Sizwe’s ideas illustrate the irrepressibility of dreams even among oppressed people, while Buntu’s responses show how apartheid’s laws and economic hierarchies limited Black people’s options. When after a night of drinking Buntu and Sizwe discover a dead man in an alley, Buntu suggests Sizwe take the dead man’s passbook, which includes a permit for seeking work in Port Elizabeth. Though Sizwe hesitates to give up his name, he ultimately steals the dead man’s identity and becomes “Robert Zwelinzima” for his family’s sake. That an official identity document becomes Sizwe’s means of avoiding oppression shows how documentation can be misleading rather than informative when it comes to trying to understand oppressed people’s lives. Under the name Robert Zwelinzima, Sizwe goes to the photographer Styles’s studio so he can get photographs taken to accompany a letter he’s sending to Nowetu explaining that he has taken a new identity and gotten a job. The photographs, with which the play ends, indicate the fulfillment of Sizwe’s dreams but perhaps also their impermanence—since Sizwe doesn’t know how long he can get away with being Robert Zwelinzima.

Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man Quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

The Sizwe Bansi Is Dead quotes below are all either spoken by Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man or refer to Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man. 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:

[Our man is amiably drunk. He addresses the audience.]

MAN: Do you know who I am, friend? Take my hand, friend. Take my hand. I am Mister Bansi, friend. Do you know where I come from? I come from Sky’s place, friend. A most wonderful place. I met everybody there, good people. I’ve been drinking, my friends—brandy, wine, beer . . . Don’t you want to go in there, good people? Let’s all go to Sky’s place.

Related Characters: Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man (speaker)
Related Symbols: Passbooks/Reference Books
Page Number: 177
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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Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man Character Timeline in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

The timeline below shows where the character Sizwe Bansi/Robert Zwelinzima/Man 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
...asks the man for his name and address. After pausing, the man—seeming scared—identifies himself as Robert Zwelinzima and says he’s staying at Fifty Mapija street. Styles asks whether he’s staying with Buntu;... (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 that he can’t read.... (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... (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... (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... (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... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Alone onstage, Sizwe narrates his letter to Nowetu again, explaining how even mentioning Sky’s place hurts his head,... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
In a flashback, Sizwe is standing outside Sky’s place, drunk. He offers the audience his hand, introduces himself as... (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 his thoughts on “Ciskeian Independence” because Sizwe’s from King William’s Town. Sizwe cuts in to... (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 Buntu is implying Sizwe can’t figure out the way. Buntu... (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... (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 him to live... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
...dead man lived in “Single Men’s Quarters,” he refuses to go there at night. As Sizwe doesn’t understand what Single Men’s Quarters are, Buntu explains it’s a barracks-like living situation where... (full context)
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
Sizwe asks the audience who treats other people well or desires other people anymore. He asks... (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 watches Buntu tear... (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... (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 white man at Feltex is handing out... (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 name is Robert Zwelinzima. Then Buntu asks for his address, workplace,... (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. Buntu gives a sermon while Sizwe interjects “Amen” and... (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 tells him to affect a blank face. Then... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
...achieve his heart’s desire and help his wife and children, he’d give up his name. Sizwe asks whether he means it. Buntu says he might keep his name if he didn’t... (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 long the... (full context)
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
Sizwe examines his new passbook and pockets it. Then he finds the walking stick, newspaper, and... (full context)