Struggle icon, poet, laureate celebrated
RENOWNED poet laureate Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile has been lauded for his contribution to the liberation Struggle by speaking truth to power through his writing prowess.
Hundreds of people, including a number of liberation heroes, academics and famed artists, descended on the Johannesburg City Hall yesterday to pay tribute to Kgositsile.
Struggle stalwarts attending his memorial service included Pallo Jordan, Ronnie Kasrils, Aziz Pahad, Essop Pahad, Mongane Wally Serote and Kgositsile’s former wife Baleka Mbete.
Popularly known as Bra Willie, Kgositsile, 79, died at Johannesburg’s Milpark Hospital following a short illness.
In addition to several speeches, song and poetry dominated his memorial service. Lebo Mashile, Natalia Molebatsi and Khosi Xaba were some of the poets who delivered their work at the ceremony.
Kgositsile was also a professor and political activist. He skipped the then-apartheid South Africa in 1961 under the instruction of the ANC, a party he had joined.
First going to Tanzania, Kgositsile reached the US in 1962, and studied at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania University, University of New Hampshire and Columbia University.
He went on to teach literature at several universities in the US, Kenya, Botswana and South Africa.
His most influential collection of poetry, My Name is Afrika, was published in 1971.
Kgositsile was named South Africa’s National Poet Laureate in 1996. He later went on to receive the National Order of Ikhamanga for his contribution to literature.
University of Johannesburg (UJ) vice-chancellor Tshilidzi Marwala recalled that he first met Kgositsile in 1989 – “not physically”, but through one of his poems that was prescribed at his high school in Venda.
UJ will rename one of its halls in honour of the departed poet and scholar, Marwala told the memorial service.
“The professor was not a selfish man. He spent a great deal of time sharing ideas with our students.”
Small in stature, Kgositsile was no ordinary man: “Professor Kgositsile was an extraordinary man who pursued ideas,” Marwala said. “His passion for the spoken and written word was unparalleled.”
“Kgositsile fought for freedom for all, and most importantly freedom for writers to express themselves without fear,” said ANC veteran Trevor Fowler. “We’re much richer for him having touched our lives.”
Dr Sebiletso MokoneMatabane, the chief executive of Sentech, said she was amazed at how Kgositsile remained well versed in his mother tongue although he had been abroad for decades.
Mokone-Matabane also remembered Kgositsile as a welcoming scholar.
Kgositsile will be buried on Tuesday in Johannesburg, the city he was born in.
He is survived by his wife Baby Dorcas Kgositsile, seven children and a number of grandchildren.
Kgositsile was an extraordinary man