Sizwe Bansi Is Dead


Athol Fugard

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Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality Theme Analysis

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.
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon

Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, a play set in apartheid South Africa, suggests that documents are rarely reliable tools for understanding marginalized people’s lives. The play opens with a Black South African photographer, Styles, reading newspaper headlines aloud. When he reaches a headline about a new automobile plant, he comments that he used to work at an automobile factory—and while he read a lot of headlines about factory owners planning to better the conditions in which Black employees worked, those headlines never resulted in real changes, like raises. Though Styles takes photographs both for official documents like passbooks and for personal keepsakes like family portraits, he argues that his real calling is documenting the existence of “my people. The simple people, who you never find mentioned in the history books.” Yet Styles isn’t trying to document the strict reality of the people he photographs; instead, he uses props and backdrops to record their aspirations and “dreams.” Moreover, he’s running a business; while he may photograph the simple people, he’s photographing simple people who have enough money to pay him, which suggests that there may be another population of people too poor to be documented at all. Thus photographs, which may seem to record visual reality, can invent alternate realities and exclude impoverished realities. In the same vein, another character, Sizwe Bansi, uses a dead man’s passbook—an identity document the government uses to monitor and limit Black South Africans’ movements—to steal a new legal identity; though the passbook is supposed to document reality, it ends up serving as a tool to hide Sizwe Bansi’s identity. The play thus calls into question the legitimacy of seemingly trustworthy documents like newspapers, IDs, and photographs for understanding the lives of oppressed people.

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Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality ThemeTracker

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Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality Quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

Below you will find the important quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead related to the theme of Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality .
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: 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: 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.

Related Characters: Styles (speaker)
Related Symbols: Photos
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Styles (speaker)
Related Symbols: Photos
Page Number: 163–164
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:

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: