Sizwe Bansi Is Dead was written in collaboration with two African actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, both of whom appeared in the original production. It made its debut on October 8, 1972, in Cape Town, South Africa. The play made its British debut a year or so later and won The London Theatre Critics award for the best play of 1974.
The genesis of Sizwe Bansi Is Dead can be traced to Fugard’s experiences as a law clerk at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg. At that time it was required that every black and colored citizen over the age of sixteen carried an identity book that restricted employment and travel within in the country. In court, Fugard saw the repercussions of this law: blacks were sent to jail at an alarming rate. Although these restrictions are specifically South African, critics have noted that the play’s greater theme of identity is universal. Critics and scholars have also observed that Sizwe Bansi Is Dead contains elements of absurdism, especially its sparse setting and surreal subject matter.