Jump to content

John Kani

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Kani
Kani in 2023, Rosebank, Johannesburg
Bonisile John Kani

(1942-08-30) 30 August 1942 (age 81)
  • Actor
  • director
  • playwright
Years active1965–present
ChildrenAtandwa Kani
HonoursOrder of Ikhamanga in Silver[1]

Bonisile John Kani, OIS, OBE (born 30 August 1942) is a South African actor, author, director and playwright. He is known for portraying T'Chaka in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Black Panther (2018), Rafiki in The Lion King (2019) and Colonel Ulenga in the Netflix films Murder Mystery (2019) and Murder Mystery 2 (2023).

Early and personal life[edit]

Kani was born on 30 August 1942 in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth In the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.[1] In 1975, after appearing in Athol Fugard's anti-apartheid play Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, which he also co-wrote, in the United States, Kani returned to South Africa. There, he received a phone call saying that his father wanted to see him. On his way there, he was surrounded by police who beat him and left him for dead. His left eye was lost as a result of the incident and he now wears a prosthesis which is technically a glass eye.[2]

His son Atandwa is also an actor, who made his debut on U.S. television on the CW series Life Is Wild, and played a younger version of Kani's character T'Chaka in Black Panther.[3]


Kani joined The Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name)[citation needed] in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.[4][5]

These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. Kani also received an Olivier Award nomination for his role in My Children! My Africa![6]

Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (which ran for 159 performances) and The Island.'[7] These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.[citation needed]

In 1987 Kani played Othello in a performance of William Shakespeare's play of the same name in South Africa, which was still under apartheid. "At least I'll be able to kiss Desdemona without leaving a smudge," he said then.[8]

Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa and does not concern the conflicts between whites and blacks, but the rift between blacks who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated regime folded. It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for the best actor and best new South African play.[9] In the same year, he was also awarded a special Obie Award for his extraordinary contribution to theatre in the United States.[10]

Kani is executive trustee of the John Kani Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the John Kani Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA.[11] He starred as T'Chaka in the Marvel Studios blockbusters Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Black Panther (2018). The fact that Kani was a Xhosa native speaker led Chadwick Boseman, who played his onscreen son T'Challa, to make that Wakanda's language, and to learn whole scenes in Xhosa, although he had never studied the language before.

In 2019, Kani appeared in the Netflix film Murder Mystery where he played Colonel Ulenga. He then voiced Rafiki in The Lion King (the live action remake of the Disney animated film).[12]

Kani's play, Kunene and the King, a co-production for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Fugard Theatre, played in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2019 before transferring back to Cape Town. He starred alongside Antony Sher.[13]

Other recognition and awards[edit]

On 20 February 2010, Kani received a SAFTA Life Time award.[14] He has also received the Avanti Hall of Fame Award from the South African film, television, and advertising industries, an M-Net Plum award and a Clio award in New York. Other awards include the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation Award for the year 2000 and the Olive Schreiner Prize for 2005. He was voted 51st in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004.[15]

In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town.[16] Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University appointed him an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in 2013.[17]

In 2016 Kani received the national honour of the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, for his "Excellent contributions to theatre and, through this, the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa".[1]

The main theatre of the Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg, has been renamed The John Kani Theatre in his honour.[18]

In 2020 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Witwatersrand[19] Recently, in 2021, John Kani has been conferred the Da Vinci Laureate by The Da Vinci Institute.

In 2023 he was awarded an Honorary OBE from British Government for services to drama.[20]


  • Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972) (co-authored with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona)
  • The Island (1973) (co-authored with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona)
  • Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (co-authored with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona)
  • My Children My Africa! (actor)
  • Nothing But the Truth (2002) (sole playwright)
  • The Tempest (2008) (actor in the role of Caliban, at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town; Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon; and tour of Richmond, Leeds, Bath, Nottingham, Sheffield)
  • Missing (2014) (actor and sole playwright)
  • Kunene and the King (2019) (actor and playwright)

Film and television[edit]

Television roles
Year Title Role Notes
1974 BBC2 Playhouse Styles / Buntu Episode: "Sizwe Bansi Is Dead"
2nd House Episode: "Athol Fugard"
1978 Play for Today George O'Brien Episode: "Victims of Apartheid"
1985 Master Harold...and the Boys Willie Television film
1986 Miss Julie John Television film
1989 Othello Othello Television film
1997 Kap der Rache Inspektor Khumalo Television film
2006 Hillside Dr. Vincent Maloka 1 episode
2008 The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Daddy Bapetsi Episode: "Pilot"
Silent Witness Dr. Phiri 2 episode
2012 iNkaba Mkhuseli Mthetho 1 episode
2015 Wallander Max Khulu Episode: "The White Lioness"
2021 What If...? T'Chaka Voice, 2 episodes: "What If... T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?", "What If... Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?"
Film roles
Year Title Role Notes
1978 The Wild Geese Sgt. Jesse Link
1980 Marigolds in August Melton
1981 Killing Heat Moses
1987 Saturday Night at the Palace September
An African Dream Khatana
1989 Options Jonas Mabote
A Dry White Season Julius
The Native Who Caused All the Trouble Tselilo Mseme
1992 Sarafina! School Principal
1995 Soweto Green: This Is a 'Tree' Story Dr. Curtis Tshabalala
1996 The Ghost and the Darkness Samuel
1997 Kini and Adams Ben
1998 The Tichborne Claimant Bogle
2001 Final Solution Rev. Peter Lekota
2007 The Bird Can’t Fly Stone
2008 Nothing but the Truth Sipho Also director and writer
2009 Endgame Oliver Tambo
2010 White Lion Old Gisani
2011 Coriolanus General Cominius
How to Steal 2 Million Julius Twala Snr.
2012 Jail Caesar Marius
2016 The Suit Mr. Maphikela Short film
Captain America: Civil War T'Chaka
2018 Black Panther T'Chaka
2019 Murder Mystery Colonel Ulenga
The Lion King Rafiki Voice
2021 Seal Team Brick Voice
2023 Murder Mystery 2 Colonel Ulenga [21]
2024 Mufasa: The Lion King Rafiki Voice, post-production


  • Nothing But the Truth (2002)


  1. ^ a b c "Bonisile John Kani (1943–)". The Presidency. 30 August 1943. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  2. ^ Britt, Donna (26 September 1989). "Apartheid Through An Angry Lens". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2 February 2023. Retrieved 5 April 2018. Kani lost his eye when he returned to South Africa after appearing in Athol Fugard's anti-apartheid play, "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead," here and in New York. The actor was lured from his home by a telephone caller who said Kani was wanted at his father's home. On the way there, Kani says he was surrounded by police, who beat him and left him for dead.
  3. ^ "John Kani on Black Panther premiere: 'I knew we would introduce a different African'". TimesLIVE. Archived from the original on 17 November 2023. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  4. ^ Motswatswa, Kelebogile (24 May 2019). "John Kani, the king of South African theatre". Mail & Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 January 2023. Retrieved 23 February 2024.
  5. ^ Sandomir, Richard (5 August 2018). "Winston Ntshona, Tony-Winning South African Actor, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 April 2023. Retrieved 23 February 2024.
  6. ^ "The big interview– DR John Kani". SA fm. Archived from the original on 2 August 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  7. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Tony Award-Winning South African Actor Winston Ntshona Dies at 76". Playbill. Archived from the original on 31 October 2023. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  8. ^ "[From our archives] 20 bizarre apartheid moments | Opinion | Analysis | M&G". Mg.co.za. 26 April 2014. Archived from the original on 14 May 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  9. ^ "Nothing But the Truth". Wits University Press. 25 October 2011. Archived from the original on 9 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  10. ^ "Bonisile John Kani". South African History Online. Archived from the original on 22 November 2023. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  11. ^ Cornwell, Gareth; Klopper, Dirk; MacKenzie, Craig (2010). The Columbia Guide to South African Literature in English Since 1945. USA: Columbia University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0231130462.
  12. ^ Gonzalez, Umberto; Verhoeven, Beatrice (7 August 2017). "'Lion King' Rafiki Casting: John Kani, 'Civil War' Star, to Play Wise Baboon (Exclusive)". TheWrap. Archived from the original on 8 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  13. ^ "About the play | Kunene and the King | Royal Shakespeare Company". rsc.org.uk. Archived from the original on 8 June 2024. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  14. ^ "All the 2010 SAFTAs winners". Bizcommunity. Archived from the original on 10 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  15. ^ "In Conversation with Dr John Kani, Author, Actor, Director, Playwright". Gordan Institute of Business Science University of Pretoria. Archived from the original on 11 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  16. ^ "Honorary doctorates for June graduation". Electronic Monday Paper. University of Cape Town. 12 June 2006. Retrieved 7 August 2006. [dead link] Vol 25 No 14
  17. ^ "NMMU to honour John Kani". Port Elizabeth Herald. 10 April 2013. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  18. ^ "The Main Theatre is renamed to honour Dr. John Kani". Markettheatre.co.za. Archived from the original on 10 June 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  19. ^ Jordaan, Nomahlubi. "Wits confers honorary doctorates on John Kani and Dr Isidor Segal". The Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Honorary awards to foreign nationals in 2023". Gov.UK. 2023. Archived from the original on 25 April 2023. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  21. ^ Galuppo, Mia (24 January 2022). "Jodie Turner-Smith, Mark Strong Join Netflix's 'Murder Mystery 2'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 24 January 2022. Retrieved 5 February 2022.

External links[edit]