National Poet Laureate was a great writer, freedom fighter and human being, writes Molebatsi Masedi.
A WEEK ago South Africa woke up to the sad tidings of the death of National Poet Laureate, Professor Willie Keorapetse Kgositsile. Bra Willie, as he is widely known, spent the bulk of his early years in exile serving the ANC in various capacities as he was a man of many talents.
Chief among his talents was literature, poetry to be specific.
Kgositsile went into exile at the height of apartheid repression in South Africa. There was no freedom for black people.
Those who dared express themselves freely bore the brunt of apartheid terror. They were jailed, harassed and even killed or disappeared with trace. Many are still unaccounted for today.
Artists were not immune to state terror. In fact the full might of repression and intimidation was reserved for artists. Books were banned and even burnt. Very little could be published or circulated. Artists were muzzled, they couldn’t produce or distribute their art.
Many writers went into exile. Writers who bolted into exile included Eskia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi, Alfred Hutchinson, Arthur Maimane, Todd Matshikiza, Bessie Head, Cosmo Pieterse, Denis Brutus, Alex La Guma, Can Temba, Nat Nakasa, Breyten Breytenbach, Mazisi Kunene, Dumile Feni, Mandla Langa, Wally Mongane Serote, Arthur Nortje, Ruth First, Lauretta Ngcobo and Stephen Watson.
This was a devastating blow on South Africa literature, it was decimated. For years this yawning gap would define Black literature in the country.
Emerging writers and other creatives, especially at the height of the Black Consciousness Movement in the 70s were orphaned.
They had no frame of reference to draw from. It was a case of Black Man you are on your own. It was not a beautiful moment to write in.
Over two decades since the dawn of freedom and democracy, this era of black South Africa remains buried by time.
No wonder Kgositsile was known and exposed only serious lovers of poetry. This was the case, notwithstanding the fact that he is big in poetry, very big.
A recipient of the Order of Ikhamanga Category II Silver for excellent achievements in the field of literature.
He was also appointed as National Poet Laureate, taking over from another literary great Mazisi Kunene. Honours don’t come as huge. Their conferment attest to his greatness as a writer, freedom fighter and human being.
Among his anthologies of poetry are Spirits Unchained, My Name is Afrika, If I Could Sing and This Way. His last book Homesoil in My Blood will be published by Xarra Books later this year.
His last public appearances where at the ANC Veterans League national conference and the recent Abantu Book Fair in Soweto, both in December last year.
As an afterthought, these outings are like he came out to bid the nation and the world farewell.
He couldn’t leave this world that he gave his all, without a decent and full good goodbye.
Molebatsi Masedi is radical socio-economic transformation activist based in Polokwane, Limpopo, though he is from Ga-Modjadji. Twitter @MolebatsiMasedi