Bonisile John Kani was born on 30 August 1943 in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. After matriculating at Newell High School, he worked with drama groups in the New Brighton area, performing in schools and community halls. In 1965 Kani joined the Serpent Players drama group, where he came into contact with Athol Fugard. It was to be the start of a long friendship and a time in which both men would attain fame and face persecution for their political beliefs.
In addition to winning a Tony award, Kani has received a number of other awards at different stages of his career, including a merit award in 1987 from the Southern Transvaal Chamber of Commerce for his contribution to the struggle for liberation through culture; an honorary doctorate from the University of Durban-Westville for his invaluable contribution to the development of arts and culture during the struggle for liberation; the ‘Hiroshima Award for Peace’, and the Tribute magazine Titan of the Century award.
Kani has been intimately involved in the long cycle of Fugard plays that changed the face of South African theatre. He has appeared in various local and international films and has, through theatre, contributed to the process that brought radical change to South Africa.