Athol Fugard 1993


Dr Athol Harold Fugard was born in Middleburg, Karoo, on the 11th of June 1932. The author of over 30 plays, he is considered one of the world’s finest, living dramatists. In chronicling the lives of poor, disempowered and dysfunctional South Africans, he continues to shed light on the complex relationships between ordinary people who have been shaped by the apartheid and post-apartheid years.

Born to Irish and Afrikaner parents, his family moved to Port Elizabeth in 1935. He studied Philosophy and Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town but dropped out. He later became a deckhand on a steamer and sailed the world. It was during this time that he began writing.

Working as a clerk in the Native Commissioners’ Court in Johannesburg in the 1950s, he became acutely aware of the injustices of apartheid. He organised a multiracial theatre, writing, producing, directing and acting in several plays. He worked closely with his colleague, the actor Zakes Mokae, on many of these projects. 

Returning to Port Elizabeth, Fugard formed the Serpent Players, a group of Black actors who developed and performed plays, often under surveillance by the Security Police. These plays were regularly staged in the townships.  It was here that his enduring collaboration with actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona began.

Fugard supported the cultural boycott of South African artists, an international response to the apartheid system. This eventually led to government restrictions on him and Special Branch surveillance. He was subsequently forced to publish and produce his plays outside of South Africa for many years. He and his wife, the poet Sheila Fugard, currently live in San Diego, California, where he teaches at the University of California. They maintain a South African residence in Nieu Bethesda.

Dr Athol Fugard received an honorary doctorate from the former University of Port Elizabeth in 1993, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the field of arts in South Africa during a turbulent time in our country’s history.