In Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, photographs represent Black South Africans’ dreams—dreams that South Africa’s white-supremacist apartheid government cannot destroy, although it can make their realization uncertain. The play introduces the symbolism of photography through the character Styles, a self-employed Black photographer. Before becoming a full-time photographer, Styles worked for six years at an automobile factory under a racist white boss, Bradley, who made him feel like a “tool” and a “circus monkey.” Though Styles’s family didn’t understand his dream of becoming a photographer, he chased it because he suspected being his own boss would make him feel like a “man”—and indeed, in the present of the play, he seems far more fulfilled than he was in the automobile factory. Having fulfilled his own dream, Styles believes the purpose of his photographs is to document and memorialize other marginalized people’s dreams: he takes photos to commemorate the late-life educational certification of a man who didn’t receive good schooling as a young person; to document the 27-person extended family of an elderly patriarch who always wanted to own a family photograph; and to illustrate the triumph of Sizwe Bansi, an unemployed man who wants to support his wife and children and finally gets a job after stealing a dead man’s passbook, which contains a work permit. In each case, the characters’ dreams are somehow uncertain or compromised. The man with the educational certificate wants to become a “graduate, self-made” through correspondence courses, which, given his late middle age and full-time work, may not happen. The elderly patriarch dies before Styles has developed the family photos. Finally, Sizwe may not be able to get away with stealing a dead man’s identity for very long. Thus photos represent both the persistence and the vulnerability of Black South Africans’ dreams under apartheid.
Photos Quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead
STYLES: This is a strong-room of dreams. The dreamers? My people. The simple people, who you never find mentioned in the history books, who never get statutes erected to them, or monuments commemorating their great deeds. People who would be forgotten, and their dreams with them, if it wasn’t for Styles. That’s what I do, friends. Put down, in my way, on paper the dreams and hopes of my people so that even their children’s children will remember a man . . .
STYLES: Something you mustn’t do is interfere with a man’s dream. If he wants to do it standing, let him stand. If he wants to sit, let him sit. Do exactly what they want! Sometimes they come in here, all smart in a suit, then off comes the jacket and shoes and socks . . . [adopts a boxer’s stance] . . . ‘Take it, Mr Styles. Take it!’ And I take it. No questions! Start asking stupid questions and you destroy that dream.
STYLES: You must understand one thing. We own nothing except ourselves. This world and its laws, allows us nothing, except ourselves. There is nothing we can leave behind when we die, except the memory of ourselves.
STYLES: Here he is. My father. That’s him. Fought in the war. Second World War. Fought at Tobruk. In Egypt. He fought in France so that this country and all the others could stay Free. When he came back they stripped him at the docks—his gun, his uniform, the dignity they’d allowed him for a few mad years because the world needed men to fight and be ready to sacrifice themselves for something called Freedom […] When he died, in a rotten old suitcase amongst some of his old rags, I found that photograph. That’s all. That’s all I have from him.
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.