According to Times Live South Africa, the legend has been battling with illness for the past eight years. His death has sent the entire country and those familiar with his work into a state of mourning. His contribution to theatre and the arts has been immeasurable and it will influence upcoming actors and thespians for generations to come.

Ntshona’s son Lawula confirmed to the Sunday Times that the icon had been ailing for some time and said, “We are reeling in shock but we are coming together as a family.”

Ntshona started his career in 1965 when he, playwright Athol Fugard and actor John Kani formed the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth. Their creation of groundbreaking South African plays won them global recognition and accolades: Ntshona and Kani co-won the prestigious Tony Award for best actor in a play for their performance in both The Island, a play about two cellmates on Robben Island who stage a production of Antigone, and Sizwe Banzi is Dead, – a play focusing on South Africa’s discriminatory pass laws, which they co-wrote. In 2010 Ntshona was among the recipients of the National Orders Awards, in the category of Ikhamanga‚ together with the late City Press editor Percy Qoboza.

In 2011 he earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the South African Film and Television Awards.

“When we started our involvement in local theatre, it was just entertainment. South Africa was a strange place,” said Ntshona in a 2001 interview with The Globe and Mail. “Everyone was totally oblivious to the need to express the plight of the black people. Everybody wanted to forget there was pain—they just wanted to be entertained. This worried us, and when the time was ripe, one picked up the responsibility to do something about one’s life.”

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He has also appeared in films, including The Wild Geese, The Dogs of War, Marigolds in August, Tarzan and the Lost City, and he had a stand-out role in the 1989 film A Dry White Season, in which he played a father whose son is beaten by white police officers during an apartheid protest.

Respected actor and director James Ngcobo said in a statement that Ntshona’s work was “simply phenomenal”.

“His work was pointed, it was researched, it had gravitas and he moved audiences wherever he played in this country and all over the world. And the other beautiful thing about him, he was such an informed African about our work.”

Streams of condolences and tributes have been flooding the Internet since his death and the sentiment is the same: Rest in power, Winston Nsthona!