Robert Kavanagh

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Robert Kavanagh (1944-). Highly influential South African theatre researcher, critic, theorist, teacher, theatre practitioner and political activist.

(Known by a range of names in his writings, among them as RK, Robert Mshengu Kavanagh, Mshengu Kavanagh, Robert Malcolm McLaren, Robert Maclaren, Robert McLaren and Mshengu)


He is a fourth generation African of Gaelic descent, born Robert Malcolm McLaren in Durban and educated at Highbury Preparatory School for Boys and Hilton College in Natal. He has a B.A. Hons. in English Literature from the University of Cape Town, an M.Phil. from Oxford University (as Rhodes Scholar) and a Ph.D. from Leeds University.

Conversant in six African and three European languages, he has been a committed socialist since the 1960’s and has lived in Zimbabwe from 1984 to the present. He is married with four children by his late wife, Thembani – Sibongile, Thando, Njabulo and Gugu – and three with his present wife, Hazvinei – Shalom, Rudairo and Ropafadzo.

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

His contribution to arts and culture in Africa and Southern Africa encompases a number of fields, including:


His involvement in arts education ranges from university theatre arts departments to early childhood arts education, from music, dance and drama with children in disadvantaged rural and urban areas to professional youth theatre. Inter alia has taught in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa (e.g. at the University of the Witwatersrand in the late 1960s/early 1970s).

Founder of structures and organizations

He co-founded the following:

1971: Workshop '71 Experimental Theatre (Johannesburg),

1980: Theatre Arts Department (Addis Ababa University),

1985: Zambuko/Izibuko (a political theatre group, Harare)

1986: Theatre Arts Department (University of Zimbabwe),

1989: The CHIPAWO Arts Education for Development and Employment Trust (Harare), of which he was Executive Director up to 2010.

1989: The Zimbabwe Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ZATCYP/ASSITEJ).

1996-1999: Chairman ASSITEJ Zimbabwe

Playmaker and director

Under the name "Mshengu" he helped to devise and directed plays for Theatre Workshop '71, including Crossroads, Survival and uHlanga – The Reed (1975), staging them at The Space before taking them on tour.


Besides helping to found, edit and write many articles, commentaries and reviews for S'ketsh' under his various pseudonyms, he has also published books and articles other journals on a wide range of subjects, mostly relating to theatre. culture, ideology and politics.

The following is an edited list of some his published works (see also the ESAT Bibliography):

The Making of a Servant and Other Poems (translated with Z.S. Qangule, 1971).

South African People's Plays (editor, 1Italic text981)

Theatre and Cultural Struggle in South Africa (author, Zed Books, 1985)

Making People's Theatre (author, 1997)

Ngoma: Approaches to Arts Education in Southern Africa (editor, 2006)

The Complete S'ketsh' (editor, 2016)

Selected Plays Vol. I: The Theatre of Workshop '71 (editor, 2016)

Selected Plays Vol II, The Political Theatre of Zambuko/Izibuko (editor, 2017)

Selected Plays III, The New Horizon Youth Theatre Company (editor, 2017)

Selected Plays V, Three Southern African Plays (editor, 2019)

Mangothobane: A Soweto Nobody (author, 2016)

A Contended Space: The Theatre of Gibson Mtutuzeli Kente (author, 2016)

Jan's Book (author, 2016)[1]

Theatre and Cultural Struggle Under Apartheid (editor, 2017)

Insila: The Eyes and Ears of the King, translated by Robert Mshengu Kavanagh and Thembani Ndiya Nene from "Insila kaShaka by John Langalibalele Dube (2017)


CV of Mshengu Kavanagh on[2]

Biographical note, Programme: UNESCO International Arts in Education Week (2012)[3]

Go to the ESAT Bibliography

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