Kente, Gibson 1932-

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KENTE, Gibson 1932-

PERSONAL: Born 1932, in East London, South Africa. Education: Attended Jan Hofmeyer School of Social Work.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Heinemann Educational, Freepost, P.O. Box 381, Oxford OX2 8BR, England.

CAREER: Playwright, composer-arranger, producer, actor, and musician. Former director of Union Artists; G. K. Productions (production company), founder.



Manana the Jazz Prophet, produced in South Africa, 1963.

Sikalo, produced in South Africa, 1966.

Life, produced in South Africa, 1968.

Zwi, produced in South Africa, 1970.

How Long, produced in South Africa, 1974.

Our Belief, produced in South Africa, 1974.

Too Late, produced in South Africa, 1974.

Can You Take It?, produced in South Africa, 1977.

La Duma [It Thundered], produced in South Africa, 1980.

Mama and the Load, produced in South Africa, 1980.

The Call, produced in Pretoria, South Africa, at the State Theatre, 2003.

Author's plays have been published in South African People's Plays: ons phola hi, plays by Gibson Kente, Credo V. Mutwa, Mthuli Sehzi, and Workshop '71, selected with introduction by Robert Mshengu Kavanagh, Heinemann (London, England), 1981.

SIDELIGHTS: Pioneering South African playwright and producer Gibson Kente, the author of more than twenty plays and several television dramas, is considered the "father" of South African township theater. During his early career, Kente focused on social and community issues that reflected South Africans' daily life. Kente's work turned more and more political, however, as South African apartheid policies crowded more and more native South Africans into urban townships such as Soweto. As a contributor noted on the National Arts Council of South Africa Web site, "Kente's plays were among the first to be located in the township reality of crime, hooliganism, alcoholism, love and politics." In addition to helping found "township theatre," Kente also introduced many South Africans to European-style theatre, especially in the forms of musicals, for which he composed and arranged the music. Many of his plays directly attack apartheid, including the musical How Long, which was banned by the South African government, as were Kente's anti-apartheid dramas Our Belief and Too Late.

Kente was arrested in 1976 after he tried to make a film of How Long. Following his release from detention in 1977, the playwright returned to his craft. While he wrote some plays strictly for entertainment, such as Can You Take It?, a musical love story, he also continued to comment on the political issues of the day, primarily by dramatizing "the conflict between political pressures and family/community solidarity," as a writer noted on the Contemporary Africa Database. Plays with political themes include La Duma [It Thundered] and Mama and the Load.

In 2003, Kente announced publicly that he had contracted HIV, defying the country's strong social stigma regarding AIDS. As reported by Christelle De Jager in Daily Variety, he broadcast his condition at a press conference in Johannesburg, noting, "I admire people like [former basketball star] Magic Johnson who disclosed their status. I know I've got a challenge ahead of me because I know I have a duty to the people out there to inspire them." Kente went on to write the play The Call, a musical about a man living with HIV/AIDS who brings hope to others with the disease. The main character is a producer, and Kente portrayed himself in the initial 2003 production in Pretoria. The South African government supported the play's production because of its strong message on HIV, which complimented the government's own initiatives to stem the spread of the disease. On the South African Department of Arts & Culture Web site, South African Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka was quoted as noting that "Kente was exceptional, because of his stature in the arts community and his contribution to the fight against apartheid. . . . The National Arts Council recently declared Kente a 'Living Treasure'. . . . The process of collecting his works will begin as a source of education and inspiration to up and coming artists."



Daily Variety, February 27, 2003, Christelle De Jager, "[Kente's] HIV Disclosure Opens Eyes in S.A.," p. 9.

Guardian (Manchester, England), February 22, 2003, Rory Carroll, "Top SA Playwright Says He Has AIDS," p. 17.


Contemporary Africa Database Web site, (September 9, 2004), "Gibson Kente."

National Arts Council of South Africa Web site, (September 28, 2004), "Showcase, Living Treasure Awards."

South African Department of Arts & Culture Web site, (March 16, 2004), "Gibson Kente in AIDS Awareness Programme."*