John Kani Biography: Age, Son, Wife, Eye, Family, Theatre Play, Books & Education

Basic Information

Stage Name: John Kani
Real Name: Bonisile John Kani
Occupation: Actor, Author, Director, and Playwright
Date Of Birth/Age: 30th August, 1943 (79 Years Old
Place of Birth: New Brighton, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Gender: Male
Nationality: South African
Marital Status: Mandi Kani (Wife)
Education: Newell High School. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.


An actor, author, director, and playwright from South Africa, Bonisile John Kani was born on August 30, 1943. He is well-known for his performances as Colonel Ulenga in the Netflix film Murder Mystery and T’Chaka in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Black Panther (2018).

He also portrayed Rafiki in the 2019 remake of The Lion King (2019). Kani is known to be a gentleman. His down-to-earth personality and charming demeanour never fail to impress the general public. The most contentious performance of Kani’s career was his portrayal of Miss Julie in Cape Town in 1982.

When Kani kissed a White woman on stage during the play, half the audience left. Due to this deed, Kani received numerous death threats and was the target of an 11-stab assassination attempt. In 1985, while presenting poetry at the funeral of a young girl murdered in rioting, Kani’s brother was shot and killed by police.

Theatre Play

Seven years before the end of apartheid, in 1987, John became the first black South African actor to play Othello on stage. Performing opposite Joanna Weinburg as Desdemona, and directed by Janet Suzman, the play ran at the Market Theatre and opened to rave reviews, but John still received threats from the authorities.

In 1965, Kani moved to Port Elizabeth and became a member of The Serpent Players, a troupe of actors whose debut performance took place in the zoo’s former snake pit, hence the group’s name. Kani contributed to the creation of numerous plays that were never published but received enthusiastic reviews when performed.

These were followed in the early 1970s by the more well-known Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, both of which were co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona. In addition, Kani was nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in My Children! My Africa!

The Island and Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, which played for 159 performances, were two of Kani’s works that were performed widely worldwide, including in New York, where he and Winston Ntshona were honored with a Tony Award in 1975.


John Kani attended Newell High School. There, he honed his talent as an actor, performing in numerous school plays with Winston Ntshona. After matriculating from Newell, Kani began working with various drama groups in the New Brighton area. They performed in schools and community halls.

After some time, Kani enrolled in Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where he got a Philosophy qualification.

Family (Son & Wife)

John Kani is happily married to Mandi Kani. The couple is blessed with a son named Atandwa Kani. Atandwa has followed in his father’s footsteps and is currently an actor in the United States. He made his debut in the CW series “Life Is Wild,” an adaptation of the popular ITV family drama “Wild At Heart,” which first aired in the United Kingdom from 2006 to 2012.

Atandwa played the role of Thabo and appeared in the fifth and sixth series. He had a brief appearance in the seventh series. Atandwa also gained praise for playing the young Nelson Mandela in the movie “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” directed by Justin Chadwick and starring Idris Elba, Naomi Harris, and Terry Pheto.

In 2014, Atandwa worked with his father (who was the director) by performing in the play “Sizwe Bansi Is Dead” in New York City. They also planned to tour South Africa with the production. Among other performances, Kani played the young T’Chaka, a dual part shared with his father in the hit Black Super Hero film, “Black Panther.” Since 2015, he has been married to Fikile Mthwalo.


Besides his iconic acting career, John Kani is also well known as an author. He has published three books. In 2002, Kani released the book “Nothing But The Truth.” It is a story of two brothers who are involved in a rivalry. The book is also about “exile, memory and reconciliation, and the ambiguities of freedom.” It became his debut as a playwright. Wits University Press published it.

He has also released two more plays ‘Missing: A Play (2015)” and “Apartheid and Othello (2016)”.

Frequently Asked Quesions

    • When did John Kani lose his eye?

Kani lost his left eye during a beating by South African police after returning home from a Broadway production of “Sizwe Bansi Is Dead,” which was critical of Apartheid. He survived after being left for dead and subsequently won a 1975 Tony Award for his performance.

    • What happened to John Kani?

After performing in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, an anti-apartheid play co-written by Athol Fugard, in the United States, Kani went back to his native South Africa in 1975. He received a call from his father asking to see him while he was there. He was attacked by cops when he traveled there, who also left him for dead. He now wears a prosthetic because the incident caused him to lose his left eye.

    • Who is Dr. John Kani?

Kani is the head of the National Arts Council of South Africa, the founder and director of the John Kani Theatre Laboratory, and executive trustee of the John Kani Theatre Foundation. He played T’Chaka in the Marvel Studios movies Black Panther (2016) and Captain America: Civil War (2016). (2018).

Though he had never studied the language before, Chadwick Boseman, who played his on-screen son T’Challa, decided to make Xhosa the official language of Wakanda because Kani was a native speaker. He even learned entire scenes in Xhosa.

    • Who plays Black Panther’s dad?

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, John Kani plays T’Chaka.

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