As King Kong's tour of Britain concluded in late 1961, the African cast and band were given a choice: either go back to a politically repressive South Africa or remain in Britain but risk being potentially barred from ever returning home. As part of the agreement to secure South African passports, the company was bound, in the words of Leon Gluckman, “by virtue of an understanding … [and] officially committed to return.” If they chose to remain abroad, then they would become effectively exiles. The lure of performing careers abroad, the potential to earn more money, raising one's children in better schools, and enjoying the freedoms available to them outside South Africa forced most to at least consider the option. Though most of sixty-plus members chose to return to South Africa, eighteen remained in Britain and lived most of their lives away from their homeland.
The issue of exile in the South African experience has been extensively explored by South African writers as well as academics. For historians, in particular, these studies tend to focus on political actors, organizations abroad, and their connections to the global antiapartheid struggle. Work from scholars such as Stephen Ellis, Shireen Hassim, Arianna Lissoni, Maria Suriano, Stephen R. Davis among others illustrate the diversity of experience within South African exile communities. Scholars of South African artists have recently begun following suit, but exile is still presented as a sweeping encounter and presented as one common experience involving suffering, homesickness, pain, and the like. For performers, however, the exile experience varied according to race, profession (musician, actor, painter, poet, etc.), type of art (political, pop music, jazz, etc.), and geographical location in exile (i.e., the United States, Britain, Tanzania, Botswana, Sweden).
This chapter and the following endeavor to tease out the diversity and nuances of the exiled South African performers’ lives. By focusing on the collective experience of King Kong's exiled cast and orchestral members in Britain and the United States, these two chapters capture the diversity of experience within this particular subset of the exiled artistic communities. This chapter explores the challenges, difficulties, and successes of the British contingent of the King Kong exiles.