Maishe Maponya

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Maishe Maponya (1951-2021). Playwright, poet, lecturer, actor and director.


Born Isaiah Maishe Maponya, the son of a painter in Alexandra township, on 1 September 1951 in Alexandra. When Maishe was 11, the family was forcibly removed to Diepkloof under the Apartheid laws, where he was then educated. He became an insurance clerk and began writing for the theatre in 1975.

He completed a masters degree in Theatre Studies at Leeds University and became a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand Drama Department in 199*.

In 2001 he was appointed Director of Arts and Culture, with the Department of Arts, Culture, Technology and Science.

Maponya passed away on 29 July, 2021, after a long battle with cancer.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

In 1975 he founded the Bahumutsi Drama Group of Soweto, thenceforth writing and producing his plays for them. During the 1980s the plays were also performed at the Market Theatre, and in 1983 The Hungry Earth (now directed by Ian Steadman) played at the National Theatre in London as a platform performance, and subsequently toured Britain and Germany along with Umongikazi. Harrassed and intimidated by security police during the Apartheid years, he was refused a passport in 1984 to accompany his plays abroad.

As playwright

Maponya writes serious political theatre, and calls his plays “theatre of the dispossessed”, believing that theatre is one of the most dynamic ways of raising the consciousness of Black people in South Africa.

His plays include:

The Cry (1975)

Peace and Forgive (1977)

The Hungry Earth (1979)

Umongikazi: The Nurse (1982)

Dirty Work (1984)

Gangsters (1984)

Busang Meropa (1986)

Return the Drum (19**)


A collection of Maponya's plays was published in Doing Plays for a Change in 1995.

As director

Besides often directing his own work, he also directed plays by other writers, such as by Trevor Rhone's Two Can Play (1992) and in 2008 Place of the Rock – How The Land Was Taken (a one man play, based on the writings of Sol T. Plaatje).

Awards, etc

In 19** he was awarded a British Council scholarship and visited Britain to observe theatre, including a visit to the Edinburgh Festival.

In 1985 he won the Standard Bank Young Artist’s Award for Drama at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival


Gosher, 1988;

Steadman, 19**,

Hauptfleisch and Steadman, 1984,

Kruger, 1997, et al

New Nation, 25-31 May 1990.

Sam Mathe. "Maishe Maponya 1951 – 2021. The sound and spirit of resistance", City Press 1 August, 2021.[1]

Andile Xaba. 2021. 'Collective memory and the construction of a historical narrative, analysis and interpretation of selected Soweto-based community plays (1984–1994)'. Unpublished PhD thesis.

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

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