Sizwe Bansi Is Dead


Athol Fugard

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Themes and Colors
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Acting and Truth Theme Icon

Sizwe Bansi Is Dead suggests that there are two kinds of acting. The first kind of acting tries to deceive its audience into believing it isn’t acting, just reality. The second kind of acting, however, draws attention to its own artificiality and thus reminds its audience what reality is. At various points in the play, all the major characters act to deceive some audience. When Styles, an ambitious Black South African man, works in an automobile factory, his white boss Bradley demands that Styles and the other Black workers act happy during the factory owner’s visit, even though the factory is dirty and dangerous. Bradley orders Styles to translate his orders to the other workers, and Styles uses this opportunity to mock Bradley while pretending to translate faithfully. In the same vein, when unemployed Black father Sizwe Bansi steals a dead man’s passbook, an identity document that will give him the right to work and thus help him support his family, he and his acquaintance Buntu rehearse different scenarios in which Sizwe will have to pretend to be the dead man; this acting prepares Sizwe to deceive people, especially police officers.

While the play’s characters use acting to deceive each other, they also use acting as a tool to draw the audience’s attention to the artificiality and fictionality of the play. Styles, Sizwe, and Buntu all talk directly to the audience, “breaking the fourth wall.” At one point, frustrated by the apartheid laws that prevent him from supporting his wife and children, Sizwe even asks a woman in the audience how many children the man beside her has and whether he’s a real man. At other points, Sizwe and Buntu mention the names of the actors who portrayed them in the original performance (Winston Ntshona and John Kani) and the first name of the playwright (Athol). By constantly pointing out that the characters are actually actors who occupy the same reality as the audience, the play reminds the audience that the apartheid laws and racial injustice the play represents are real too. Thus, the play uses the artificiality of acting to highlight the reality of oppressive white supremacy in apartheid South Africa.

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Acting and Truth ThemeTracker

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Acting and Truth Quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

Below you will find the important quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead related to the theme of Acting and Truth.
Sizwe Bansi Is Dead Quotes

STYLES: I worked at Ford one time. We used to read in the newspaper . . . big headlines! . . . ‘So and so from America made a big speech: “. . . going to see to it that the conditions of their non-white workers in Southern Africa were substantially improved.”’ The talk ended in the bloody newspaper. Never in the pay packet.

Related Characters: Styles (speaker)
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

STYLES: ‘Gentlemen, he says that when the door opens and his grandmother walks in you must see to it that you are wearing a mask of smiles. Hide your true feelings, brothers. You must sing. The joyous songs of the days of old before we had fools like this one next to me to worry about.’ [To Bradley.] ‘Yes, sir!’

Related Characters: Styles (speaker), Bradley
Page Number: 153–154
Explanation and Analysis:

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 . . .

Related Characters: Styles (speaker)
Related Symbols: Photos
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Styles (speaker)
Related Symbols: Photos
Page Number: 163
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: [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 [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: