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Hamba kahle, Bra Willie

Keorapetse William Kgositsile

Unisa is saddened by the death of Poet Laureate Keorapetse William Kgositsile. Bra Willie, as he was known, who passed away on 3 January 2018 at the age of 79. He received an honorary doctorate of Literature and Philosophy from the university on 13 September 2012 for his enduring efforts to promote the use of indigenous languages and reading through his engaging poetry.

Speaking on that occasion, Kgositsile said that university degrees, including doctoral ones, should never be allowed to be terminal, like an illness. He went on to add that the pursuit and production of knowledge 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."

About 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 wrote 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 Theatre in Harlem and was 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. On returning from exile, Kgositsile worked in various capacities including Special Advisor to three Ministers of Arts and Culture.

*Compiled by Sharon Farrell