Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, written by Athol Fugard and premiered in 1972, has a number of key themes. The first of them is made clear in the setting of the play: appearances. Styles, the first character we meet, runs a photographic studio: his job is to make people seem to be something they might not be. He calls his studio a "strong room of dreams" and creates fantasies for people who come in, making them look their best. Even his name, "Styles," indicates the play's concern with how we look.
Of course, connected to this is another major theme: race. When Athol Fugard premiered the play in Cape Town, South Africa was under racist apartheid rule. The characters in this play are all disrespected on a daily basis, and Styles's photographs give them dignity. Without the repressive government, the central plot-event wouldn’t take place at all.
And speaking of the plot-event, we come to the most important theme of all: identity. Sizwe Bansi is not dead, despite the title; Robert Zwelinzima is dead. But Sizwe has swapped identity cards with Robert, so there is a dead body with Sizwe's identity card in its pocket. This suggests that our identities can be defined by many things, and whether or not you exist within the legal system is the most important. The play asks, "Who is Sizwe Bansi?" and, in doing so, "What does it mean to 'be' someone"?