John Kani adjusts Winston Ntshona 's tie prior to going on stage for Sizwe Banzi is dead, the Tony Award winning play that was staged on July 1, 2006 at the Rhodes Theatre in Grahamstown for the first time since 1984. Picture: IVOR MARKMAN.
John Kani adjusts Winston Ntshona 's tie prior to going on stage for Sizwe Banzi is dead, the Tony Award winning play that was staged on July 1, 2006 at the Rhodes Theatre in Grahamstown for the first time since 1984. Picture: IVOR MARKMAN.

South African theatre great and anti-apartheid activist Winston Ntshona has died at the age of 76.

Ntshona’s son Lawula confirmed that his father passed away on Thursday morning, after battling illness for eight years. "Thus far we are just reeling in shock but we are coming together as a family‚" he said.

Friend and fellow theatre great John Kani, speaking on SAfm‚ said he was devastated by the news of his old friend’s death and described him as a brother.

At a gathering at Ntshona’s home on Thursday, Kani said SA had lost a giant and the epitome of ubuntu.

"With the passing of beautiful Winston, I have lost a dearly beloved brother. A big tree has fallen in the forest. Fortunately for us survivors, there are young ones now growing taller," playwright Athol Fugard wrote in his message of condolence, relayed through the Fugard Theatre in Johannesburg.

Ntshona began his career in 1965, when he formed the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth with Fugard and Kani. Together they created pioneering South African plays.

Ntshona’s work with Kani on the stage achieved global recognition. Both won numerous awards for their contribution to theatre‚ including Broadway’s prestigious Tony Award in 1975 for writing and acting in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead.

In 2010 Ntshona was among the recipients of the National Orders Awards. He was among 37 individuals and organisations‚ including academics‚ struggle icons‚ sportsmen and leaders in the arts‚ who received the award from former president Jacob Zuma at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria.

Ntshona was honoured in the category of Ikhamanga‚ together with the late City Press editor Percy Qoboza.

In 2012 streets in the arts precinct of central Port Elizabeth had their names changed in honour of Ntshona and fellow theatre stalwarts John Kani and Athol Fugard. Chapel Street was changed to Winston Ntshona Street.

Actor and Generations creator Mfundi Vundla told TshisaLIVE that Ntshona’s legacy and work were the best memory SA could have of him.

"I remember the first time that I saw Winston was in his play with John Kani‚ Sizwe Banzi Is Dead. Up until then I had never seen a play like that before. He performed it at such a high level. It was a life-changing experience for me‚" Mfundi said.

Mfundi said he had travelled from Boston to see the play and was in awe of Winston’s talent.

"I was in exile and living Boston but I remember travelling to go see the show but it really changed my life."

Young actress Nambitha Ben-Mazwi posted a picture of herself with Winston on social media, and said he was the reason she had decided to become an actress.

Social media was flooded with tributes and messages remembering the star.

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