South African poet and struggle icon Keorapetse Kgositsile, popularly known as “Bra Willie”, has passed on at the age 79. Kgositsile was the South African poet Laureate when he transited to being an ancestor.
African literature is in mourning as one of its most important poets Keorapetse Kgositsile passed on in South Africa. Kgositsile was born in Johannesburg in 1938 and his early experience of the ugly race problem in South Africa would influence his life. In 1961, he left the country to Dar es Salaam and in the following year emigrated to the United States and he would be exiled from South Africa for 29 years.
While in the US, he would become a central figure among African-American poets, encouraging interest in Africa as well as the practice of poetry as a performance art; he was well known for his readings in New York City jazz clubs. Kgositsile was one of the first to bridge the gap between African poetry and Black poetry in the United States. His work would influence “The Last Poets,” a group of poets and musicians that arose from the late 1960s African-American civil rights movement’s Black Nationalist movement and oft said to be the fathers of hip-hop.
Some of the books that he wrote included Spirits Unchained (1969), For Melba: Poems. (1970), My Name is Afrika (1971), Places and Bloodstains: Notes for Ipeleng (1975) The Present is a Dangerous Place to Live (1975), When the Clouds Clear (1990), To the Bitter End (1995), If I Could Sing: Selected Poems (2002), and This Way I Salute You (2004).
In 2006, Kgositsile was named the South African Poet Laureate as the South African Literary Awards, a title he held until his demise. In 2008, he was awarded the national Order of Ikhamanga Silver (OIS) “For excellent achievements in the field of literature and using these exceptional talents to expose the evils of the system of apartheid to the world.”
The passing of the struggle icon has been met with tears from those who he influence and saw his good work.
Speaking to eNCA, Lebo Mashile said about her fellow poet, “
“My heart has been very heavy but my heart is also very full for the contribution that Bra Willie has made in my life and to the world through his work and through his activism and his generosity of spirit. I know that I am not alone with feeling that his contribution to my life and to my work is been absolutely indelible. I would not be who I am if I he did not exist and he did not make the wonderful work that he did. To have experienced him in my lifetime, someone whose contribution spans generations, spans decades, spans continents to be affected by him is a real privilege.”
The South African Parliament released a statement stating:
“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. 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.”
Others expressed their sympathy.
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
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