Original Research

Identity, politics and restriction in Athol Fugard’s art: Writing and liberalism in apartheid South Africa

Khaya M. Gqibitole, Shamsuddeen Bello
Literator | Vol 39, No 1 | a1459 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v39i1.1459 | © 2018 Khaya M. Gqibitole, Bello Shamsuddeen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 November 2017 | Published: 31 October 2018

About the author(s)

Khaya M. Gqibitole, Department of English, University of Zululand, South Africa
Shamsuddeen Bello, Department of English and French, Umaru Musa Yaradua University, Nigeria


Athol Fugard enjoys a place of honour in the South African and generally African canon as a great dramatist, creative collaborator, director and as an artist who was able to create a distinctive theatre that blended African and Western forms of performance. His multidimensional (rather than a given perspective) approach to art enabled him to retain his literary leaning and identity. This article examines his often downplayed but equally potent contribution to the struggle against apartheid through theatre. It also discusses his multilayered identity and how it affected his compositions and play-making, as well as the paradoxes associated with even his most political plays. For instance, while he promoted a belief in ‘the personal being inextricably political’, in his plays, in public utterances he denied being political. The article further examines some of the plays’ contested politics through a discussion of the diverse facets of restriction employed by the apartheid regime to gauge and suppress politics in the arts at the time and the underground activities of the playwright and his actor-collaborators who had to contend with the apartheid machinery that was designed – overtly or covertly – to suffocate any form of art deemed subversive and/or anti-apartheid. Generally, the article is anchored in the relation between intention, context and text or performance.


Athol Fugard; kani; multi-layered identity; collaboration; liberalism; apolitical; commitment; apartheid


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