Maponya, Maishe 1951-

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MAPONYA, Maishe 1951-


Born September 4, 1951 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Education: Attended University of Leeds, 1986-87.


Office—Dramatic Art Department, University of Witwatersrand, P.O. Wits 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa.


Playwright, actor, director, and poet. Liberty Life Assurance, Johannesburg, South Africa, supervisor, 1974-83; Bahumutsi Drama Group, Diepkloof, South Africa, coordinator, 1976-88; P.A.W.E., Johannesburg, South Africa, vice chair, 1991-93; Johannesburg Southern Metropolitan Council, Library, Arts & Culture, Johannesburg, South Africa, executive officer, 2001-03; University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, currently senior lecturer. Director of his plays and of Changing the Silence, London, England, 1985; The Coat, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1990; Two Can Play, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1992; A Raisin in the Sun, 1992. Actor in his plays and in The Hungry Earth, London, England, 1981.

Also cofounder of Bahumutsi Drama Group, Allahpoets, 1978; and the African Research and Educational Puppetry Programme, now known as AREPP: Theatre for Life Trust, 1987.


Standard Bank Young Artist Award, South Africa, 1985; Wesley Guild's Best Diepkloof Poet prize, 1986.



The Hungry Earth (produced in London, England, 1981), Polyptoton (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1981.

Umongikaze (title means "The Nurse"; produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, and London, England, 1983), Polyptoton (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1983.

Dirty Work (produced in London, England, 1985), Polyptoton (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1985.

Gangsters (produced in London, England 1985; New York, 1986), Polyptoton (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1985, Braziller (New York, NY), 1986.

(With V. Amani Waphtali) The Valley of the Blind, produced in London, 1987.

Jika, produced in New York, 1988.

Busang Meropa (title means "Bring Back the Drums"), produced in Birmingham, England, 1989.

Doing Plays for a Change: Five Works (includes Hungry Earth, Umongikaze, Dirty Work, Gangsters, and Jika), introduction by Ian Steadman, Witwatersrand University Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1995.

Also author of the sound recording Azikho, Tusk Records (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1991.


Gangsters has also been produced as a radio play, 1988; and adapted as the monologue Monuments—I Read What I Like.


Maishe Maponya grew up in the poor township of Soweto, and his intensely political plays examine how apartheid affected black South Africans. Writing in Contemporary Dramatists, a contributor noted, "The playwright tries to assault the reader with knife blade images of the experiences of several classes of workers and other artistic professions straining against the strictures and structures of white-controlled establishments that were draconically manipulated to deny black South Africans maximum participation, career advancement, and self-fulfillment. Persecution and prejudice can be said to be Maponya's creative obsessions."

Maponya used the Bahumutsi theatre group, which he helped to establish, to perform many of his plays at the Moravian Church hall in Soweto. In his play The Hungry Earth, Maponya focuses on migrant laborers and the degradations they suffer at the hands of the establishment. After four laborers conduct a symbolic dance to claim their stolen land, Maponya uses a series of scenes to examine everything from the Zulu battle against the British in 1879 to child exploitation on sugar plantations. In the end, the play's title comes into focus as the four men and others are buried by a mine cave-in. In Umongikazi (the title means "The Nurse"), Maponya looks at black nurses who are mistreated by their white hospital administrators with little opportunity for advancement. Another play, Dirty Work, features a paranoid security officer lecturing on a high-tech device meant to counteract an invasion by black people. The trembling officer is so fearful that he eventually dies of a heart attack as the lecture nears its end.

Most critics and observers consider Gangsters to be Maponya's most accomplished play. During apartheid, the play was considered too inflammatory, and South Africa's Directorate of Publications mandated that it only be performed in small, avant-garde theatres closed in by four walls. Since no theatre of this type existed in any township, Maponya sought to stage the play in smaller spaces at the markets. Maponya uses a series of flashbacks in the play to tell the story of Rasecheba, a poet hounded by the government for writing inflammatory poems. Imprisoned and interrogated, the poet is eventually tortured to death while the government tries to explain away the death as an accident or a suicide. A Contemporary Dramatists contributor noted, "By shifting the emphasis from the poet's death to the process of his death, the playwright succeeds in presenting Rasecheba's tormentors as professional homicides who for once are embattled with guilt, thus giving the work a near tragic impetus."

Although Gangsters was first produced with an all-male cast, it has also been performed in New York with a woman in the poet's role. Anthony O'Brien, writing in the Theatre Journal, quoted Maponya as saying that "women have long symbolized the strength of our movement, refusing to break under the yoke of oppression and sacrificing their very lives for liberation. I thought a woman was more appropriate for the role for the overall sensitivity she would bring to the part." Maponya has also performed his poetry and excerpts from the play as the experimental monologue Monuments—I Read What I Like. The reading is usually staged with percussion instruments being played in the background. Writing a review of the performance in the Mail & Guardian of Johannesburg, South Africa, Gwen Ansell noted, "A very tight format eliminates the histrionic repetitions which often sink political plays. So the ideas come like bullets."



Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg, South Africa), September 13, 1996, Gwen Ansell, review of Monuments—I Read What I Like; September 20, 1996, "Recapturing the Vision," profile of Maishe Maponya.

Theatre Journal, March, 1994, Anthony O'Brien, "Staging Whiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya," review of Gangsters, p. 45.


South Africa Official Gateway Web site, (September 28, 2004), "Tackling Apartheid."*