John Kani Biography: Age, Family, Education, Career, Acting, Awards, Controversy, Net Worth

"It's hard for a good man to be a king"

By  | Jun 22, 2020, 01:48 PM  | John Kani  | Top of The

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John Kani is a South African actor, voice actor, playwright and director. If you are a fan of the Marvel movies then you would know that John gained international fame after appearing as King T'Chaka in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and its sequel ‘Black Panther’.

Kani is known to be a gentleman. His down-to-earth personality and charming demeanor never fail to impress the general public.
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Here's a look at John Kani's life and how he's made it to stardom.

John Kani Age

John was born on the 30th of August, 1973 in New Brighton, South Africa as Bonisile John Kani. He is 76 years old.
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John Kani Family

John is married to Mandi Kani and they have a son Atandwa Kani. His son, Atandwa, is also an actor and made his debut on U.S. television on the CW series Life Is Wild.
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John Kani Education

He matriculated from Newell High School where he performed in numerous school plays with Winston Ntshona.

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Soon after finishing high school he began working with various drama groups in the New Brighton area performing in schools and community halls. It seems like his true calling was in the arts department from a very young age. He then went to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University where he got his qualification in Philosophy. 

John Kani Career

Hi career really kicked off in 1965 while working at the Ford Motor Company in Port Elizabeth Kani. It was during this time that he became a member of the Serpent Players drama group and it was here that he met Athol Fugard one of the greatest directors in Mzansi. 
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One of the plays that emerged in 1972 was Sizwe Bansi is Dead, a collaboration between Kani, Fugard and Winston Ntshona. This was followed by The Island in 1973. Sizwe Banzi is Dead addresses the apartheid regime’s restrictive pass laws.

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His career during the apartheid period in South Africa faced a lot of challenges, but this did not deter John from doing what he loved. In 1977 Kani began collaborating with Barney Simon and became involved with the new Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

Kani’s performance in Miss Julie in Cape Town in 1982 was the most controversial of his career. During the play Kani kissed a White woman on stage which resulted in half the audience walking out. As a result of this act Kani received in numerous death threats and an assassination attempt during which he was stabbed 11 times. In 1985 Kani’s brother was killed by police while he was reciting a poem at the funeral of a young girl killed during riots.

Since then, John Kani has appeared in many other block busters that have received worldwide recognition.
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Awards and Recognition

After four decades in theatre, John Kani has firmly secured his place in South Africa’s theatrical hall of fame. He surely has got so much recognition even internationally.

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1975 - The Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.
2000 - Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation Award for the Year
2003 - Obie Award for Special Citations in The Island
2005 - Olive Schreiner Prize
2006 - Honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town
2010 - Golden Horn Award for Best Achievement in Script in a Feature Film in Nothing But The Truth
2010 - Golden Horn Lifetime Achievement Award
2016 - National honour of the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver
2019 - Naledi Theatre World Impact Award


  • 1. Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972) (co-authored with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona)
  • 2. The Island (1973) (co-authored with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona)
  • 3. Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (co-authored with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona)
  • 4. My Children My Africa! (actor)
  • 5. Nothing But the Truth (2002) (sole playwright)
  • 6. The Tempest (2008) (actor in the role of Caliban, at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town; Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon; and tour of Richmond, Leeds, Bath, Nottingham, Sheffield)

Film and Television

  • 1. The Wild Geese (1978)
  • 2. Marigolds in August (1980)
  • 3. Killing Heat (1981)
  • 4. The Grass Is Singing (1981)
  • 5. Master Harold...and the Boys (1985) (TV)
  • 6. Saturday Night at the Palace (1987)
  • 7. An African Dream (1987)
  • 8. Options (1988)
  • 9. A Dry White Season (1989)
  • 10. Othello (1989) (TV)
  • 11. The Native Who Caused All the Trouble (1989)
  • 12. An African Dream (1990)
  • 13. Sarafina! (1992)
  • 14. In Darkest Hollywood: Cinema and Apartheid (1993) (Non-fiction)
  • 15. Soweto Green (1995)
  • 16. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
  • 17. Kap der Rache (1997) (TV) (German)
  • 18. Kini and Adams (1997)
  • 19. The Tichborne Claimant (1998)
  • 20. Final Solution (2001)
  • 21. Hillside (2005–2008) (TV series)
  • 22. Silent Witness (Finding Rachel) (2008)
  • 23. Endgame (2009)
  • 24. Coriolanus (2011)
  • 25. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  • 26. Black Panther (2018)
  • 27. Lion King (2019)
  • 28. Murder Mystery (2019)


  • 1. Nothing but the truth (2002)
  • 2. Missing: A Play (2015)
  • 3. Apartheid and Othello (2016)

John Kani Controversy

In 2017, it was announced that John Kani would be in the movie 'The Lion King' and fans couldn't have been more excited. The actor got to work with many A-list stars and one of them was Beyonce. While many may be excited to take a pic with Queen Bey, John wasn't too fazed. Here's what he said:

Fast forward to 2019, when 'The Lion King' poster was out, it made more noise as John Kani wasn't in the poster. Twitter was able to pick this up quickly and demanded for answers from Disney.
"Dr John Kani introduced isiXhosa to the B.Panther and wasn't credited even behind the scenes now the Lion King?" read one of the comments.

However, it seems all that is in the past as the movie was such a great and let's just say fans loved Rafiki and forgot about the poster.

John Kani Net Worth

His worked is recognised throughout the entire world and he has appereared in so many movies and films. Hie net worth is estimated to be around US$6 million.


Kani lost his left eye during a beating by South African police after returning home from a Broadway production of "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead", which was critical of Apartheid. He survived after being left for dead and subsequently won a 1975 Tony Award for his performance.
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John Kani has clearly made a name for himself and had a great impact in theatre. He and Winston have roads named after them.
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Kudos to John for his beautiful work and we hope to see more great work from him.

Read more: Masechaba Ndlovu Biography: Age, Family, Education, Career, Marriage, Controversy

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