These were the words of Poet Laureate Prof Keorapetse William Kgositsile on accepting an Honorary Doctorate in Literature and Philosophy from Unisa on Thursday 13 September 2012. He went on to add that the pursuit and production of knowledge, in short, learning, is a lifelong pursuit.
“It does not stop with being awarded a degree,” he said. “It can never be a destination; it remains, permanently, a road to be travelled. And that pursuit for knowledge can never be for its own sake; it must be used as an instrument to equip us to be of better service to society; an instrument to enable us to be instrumental agents of our historic mission, which is to create a better future for the majority of our people.”
Kgositsile went on to speak about travelling to the United States earlier this year for a poetry reading and lecture tour. While sharing his experiences with large numbers of students in the USA, one question kept coming to mind, “Why is none of this happening at home?”
“As if in response to that question I received a letter from the Registrar, Professor Louis Molamu, informing me that the Council of the University of South Africa had decided that the degree Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (DLitt et Phil) (honoris causa) was to be awarded to me,” said Kgositsile. Accepting the doctorate with humility, Kgositsile regarded the occasion as a major reception to finally welcome him home from decades of exile. “I promise never to let you down. I promise to continue doing the work you have honoured me for,” he said.
About Poet Laureate Prof Keorapetse William Kgositsile
Born in Johannesburg in 1938, Kgositsile attended Madibane High School. His extensive writing career began in 1961 when he worked as a young writer for the radical anti-apartheid newspaper, the New Age. He is highly noted for the promotion of arts and culture as important pillars of post-apartheid South Africa. Unable to tolerate the oppressive apartheid conditions and under the direction of the African National Congress, Kgositsile left South Africa in 1961. He spent his exile years pursuing his literary, educational, cultural and political interests in countries such as Tanzania, the United States of America, Zambia and Botswana. In 1971 he obtained a master’s degree in Fine Arts from Columbia University in New York. During this period Kgositsile published his first poetry collection, the critically acclaimed Spirits Unchained.
Kgositsile has written ten books and published numerous articles, speeches, and other materials. His poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals including Guerrilla, Journal of Black Poetry, Negro Digest, The New African, Pan African Journal and Urban Review as well as in the anthologies Black Arts, Black Fire, For Malcolm and Poems Now. Worldwide appreciation of Kgositsile is evident by the presentations of his poetry, lectures on writing as a craft, revolutionary ideas on arts and culture and anti-apartheid activism.
He was a founder of the Black Arts Theater in Harlem and has been an educator at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, the University of Denver, Wayne State University, the New School for Social Research in New York, the University of California in Los Angeles and the Universities of Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Fort Hare. He has also spoken in many countries, including Cuba, England and Russia. Since returning from exile, Kgositsile has worked in various capacities including Special Advisor to three Ministers of Arts and Culture, a position he currently holds.
*Written by Trevor Khanyile