Yesterday South Africa mourned the passing of its national poet laureate, Professor Keorapetse William Kgositsile. Affectionately referred to as ‘Bra Willie’, Kgositsile was awarded the accolade of laureate in 2006, after the death of Mazisi Kunene. In spite of a long and impressive career in the arts, Kgositsile was perhaps not as well known in his home country as he should have been – as a member of the ANC and a political activist who used his work to speak out against the inherent inequalities of apartheid, Kgositsile’s poetry was banned under the previous regime.
Kgositsile was forced to leave South Africa in 1961 and spent the following three decades in exile, with his time split between the United States, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Zambia, where he worked as a lecturer. His years spent living in America had a big influence on his work, and Kgositsile is credited with bridging the divide between African poetry and Black poetry in the United States. In a 1972 interview with a journal of black literature, Callaloo, Kgositsile spoke of having left South Africa:
My acceptance of my environment did not erase my memories of Africa on the continent. Africa on the continent and Africa in America exist interwoven in my work”
Kgositsile passed away on the 3rd January at the age of 79 at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, after fighting a short illness. An official state memorial service was held yesterday, with flags flown at half mast at all state institutions.
Our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Bra Willie.
Image courtesy of www.huffingtonpost.co.za