William “Bloke” Modisane: 1923 to 1986

Influential member of the Drum generation

Bloke Modisane was an actor, author and journalist and became one one of the most influential journalists of the Drum generation.

Modisane was born in Sophiatown, a multiracial suburb of Johannesburg, on 28 August 1923 and died in Dortmund, Germany in 1986.

Perhaps the writing bug started to bite him when he first started working at Vanguard book shop owned by a former trade unionist because even since he never looked back. He joined Drum Magazine around the time the magazine was known for its investigative journalism prowess. It unearthed prison and farm conditions in the 1950s.

His friends and brother-colleagues were Can Themba, Eskia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi and Henry Nxumalo. Bloke also worked as a jazz critic for Drum’s sister magazine, Golden City Post, a weekly tabloid based in Johannesburg. He also maintained non-racial ideals for the Art Federation and Union of South Africa Artists while penning for Drum Magazine.

When Bloke was 28 in 1951, his short stories The Dignity of Begging and The Respectable Pinpocket appeared in Drum Magazine. He further wrote, The Situation published by Black Orpheus. It was about an educated African who does not fit into his surroundings. The theatrical bug did not miss a chance to bite when he played the character of Shark in Athol Fugard’s No Good Friday. This was because of his participation in the African Theatre Workshop.

At the age of 36, in 1959, Bloke went into exile in England where, four years later, he published Blame Me On History a book equivalent to Can Themba’s Requiem for Sophiatown which was banned in 1966 by the apartheid government. While in exile he continued to enjoy much time on stage when he starred in a play, The Blacks under Royal Court Theatre Drama. Acting, broadcasting and writing were also his trades.


South African History Online, [s.a.]. William Bloke Modisane. Available at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/william-bloke-modisane. Accessed on (24 November 2015).

Image is also available at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/william-bloke-modisane.