JOHANNESBURG – Struggle stalwart and poet Keorapetse Kgositsile has passed away at Johannesburg’s Milpark Hospital on Wednesday morning.
We begin 2018 on a very sombre note with the passing of one of South Africa’s most influential and exceptional poets, who went on to become the wRite Association’s National Poet laureate & a member of @ArtsCultureSA‘s Living Legends Legacy Programme, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile. pic.twitter.com/ydjjl1jyD5
— Min. Nathi Mthethwa (@NathiMthethwaSA) January 3, 2018
It is with great sadness that we have learnt of Prof. Keorapetse Kgositsile’s passing. He was with us just the other day at Abantu Book Festival & his event -which was his last ever- was one of those the audience wished would never end. RIP National Poet Laureate. #NoSerenityHere pic.twitter.com/nGNCt4v3Yu
— Abantu Book Festival (@Abantu_) January 3, 2018
The political activist started news reporting for the anti-Apartheid newspaper, The New Age, which was edited by political activist Ruth First.
As a member of the African National Congress in the 1960s, working for the newspaper allowed him the opportunity to write against the Apartheid regime.
In 1961 Kgositsile went into exile in Tanzania, where he was employed at Spearhead magazine.
In the following year, he moved to the United States where he furthered his studies at Pennsylvania University, Lincoln University, University of New Hampshire and then New York’s Columbia University.
He graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing whilst still living in the US. He wrote extensively about American Jazz and become the founder of the Black Arts Theatre in 1971.
In the same year, Kgositsile published his first book titled My Name is Afrika, which spearheaded his career in writing and the spoken word and gained him the title of leader in African poetry.
In 1975, he took up a teaching position in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where he married current parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and in later years, founded the ANC’s Department of Education.
Post-Apartheid, the Professor held the position of Advisor to the Minister of Arts and Culture.
In 2006, Kgositsile was honoured with the South African Poet Laureate Prize by the South African Literary Awards. Two years on, the professor was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga.
Parliament has released on statement on Kgositsile’s passing, saying: The remarkable legacy of Bra Willie, as he was affectionately known, cannot die, but will live on to continue to inspire many to use culture to advance the development of people of South Africa.”
The African National Congress (ANC) said in a statement: “Comrade Kgositsile has left an indelible mark on the cultural and artistic life of not only the land of his birth, but also of Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia and Harlem, New York.
“The tapestry of South African cultural life is all the poorer at his loss and the ANC joins all South Africans in mourning the passing of this great man.”
Gwen Ansill was with Kgositsile at the Medu Art Ensemble in Botswana, and also was a neighbour of his in Killarney.
She says: “The wealth of legacy that he leaves behind is that he never subordinated poetry for politics or vice versa. He made a clear distinction of how parallel these two worlds were. He wrote extensively about literature, struggle and jazz. We cannot forget the music in the spoken words that he used to deliver.
“What’s beautiful is that Bra Willy did not only have time for comrades but opened himself up to be with anyone else outside of politics.”
The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) said in a statement: “The country has indeed been robbed off a literary giant. His positive work will remain active with us in spirit and may his soul rest in peace.”
Poet Lebo Mashile says Bra Willie was a funny man with a great deal of integrity.
In a statement, President Jacob Zuma said: “Today our country mourns the sad passing of one of the giants of our liberation struggle who was renowned for his accomplishment as well in the education, arts and culture sectors. He was highly regarded even beyond the borders of our country and was a celebrated arts intellectual in the continent. We extend our deepest condolences to the family. May his soul rest in peace.”
The Abantu Book Festival, which was held in December late last year, recalled the last moment they shared with the veteran poet.