Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

by

Athol Fugard

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Official Identity vs. Personal Identity 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.
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon

The three main characters in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, all Black men living in apartheid South Africa, each have two identities: the official identity that South Africa’s white-supremacist state imposes on them, and the personal identity they derive from their sense of self. The play illustrates how racist official identities encroach on and damage Black South Africans’ personal identities. One character, Styles, worked in an automobile factory for six years; his supervisor Bradley, a white South African, used racial slurs to refer to Black people and called them “monkeys.” Eventually, Styles internalized the image of himself as a “circus monkey” and started referring derisively to himself in that way. It was only when he quit working in the factory and became a self-employed photographer that he considered himself a “man.” Another main character, Sizwe Bansi, considers himself first and foremost a husband and father—meaningful personal identities. Yet because apartheid South Africa has imposed on him an official identity as a Black resident of King William’s Town—an oppressive, racist official identity that his passbook enforces—he is not legally allowed to move in search of work to support his family. It is only when Sizwe switches passbooks with a dead man, symbolically “killing” his official identity, that he has a chance of supporting his family and thus protecting his personal sense of self. Finally, Sizwe’s acquaintance Buntu is likewise a husband and father—yet due to Buntu and his wife’s difficult work and financial situations, which their (implicitly white) employers and apartheid law impose on them, they rarely see each other or their child. Thus, the play suggests that the official identities apartheid imposed on Black South African people robbed them of a sense of self and, in so doing, alienated them from the personal identities that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.

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Official Identity vs. Personal Identity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Official Identity vs. Personal Identity appears in each chapter of Sizwe Bansi Is Dead. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

Below you will find the important quotes in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead related to the theme of Official Identity vs. Personal Identity.
Sizwe Bansi Is Dead Quotes

STYLES: That was my moment, man. Kneeling there on the floor . . . foreman, general foreman, plant supervisor, plant manager . . . and Styles? Standing!

Related Characters: Styles (speaker), Bradley
Page Number: 152
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: I took a good look at my life. What did I see? A bloody circus monkey! Selling most of his time on earth to another man. Out of every twenty-four hours I could only properly call mine the six when I was sleeping. What the hell is the use of that?

Related Characters: Styles (speaker), Bradley
Page Number: 156
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:

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:

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:

[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: