Tribute to Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile

The death of poet and activist Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile has robbed the art and literary world of a wordsmith, revolutionary and literary figure. Kgositsile, who was popularly known as “Bra Willie” and “Ntake KK” died on January 3, 2018, at the age of 79.

Prof. Kgositsile was South Africa’s National Poet Laureate. He was born on 19 September 1938 in Johannesburg. He taught at a number of universities in Africa and the United States of America (USA), including the University of Denver, Wayne State University, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Kgositsile, being a member of the African National Congress (ANC), left the country in 1961. While in exile in the USA he became one of the founding members of the Black Arts Movement, which was part of the civil rights movement. He also worked in the Political Military Council (PMC) in Botswana and was a member of the ANC National Centenary Task Team and a founding member of the ANC Veterans League.

Jozi Book Fair (JBF) is honoured to have had Prof. Kgositsile as a Patron of the Fair. He has done tremendous work to contribute to the aims of the Book Fair and the building of a culture of reading in South Africa. In 2016 he gave his time and took part in the JBF monthly poetry forums, where he facilitated the workshops. He shared his wealth of knowledge with the youth and helped them with their writing skills. He played a huge role in anchoring the work and the theme of the Fair (Youth Rising), building a poetry movement and shaping the Fair in 2016.

Prof. Kgositsile also played a role in ensuring that his work that was not available anymore is accessible to ordinary people. Khanya Printing reprinted two of his books that were out of print: ‘The Young are no longer Young’ and ‘Homage’. Every child who came to the Book Fair in 2016 and 2017 left with one of his books in hand. He dedicated a lot of his time to the youth that the JBF works with, participating in the schools programme and conversing with children that read his books in their book clubs.

In 2016, he participated in the Youth Rising event in Tembisa, that took place on Youth Day (June 16). He was always available for the kids that wanted to interact with him, always ready to pass on the baton and share his experiences and knowledge with the ones that came after him and encouraged youth to be the voice of change. The ‘Pass on the Word’ programme supported young people with their reading and writing. It represented the power of the word, raised awareness and educated young and old people. It was positioned to encourage inter-generational dialogue, passing knowledge from one generation on to another younger generation.

Prof. Kgositsile is one of the most internationally acclaimed and widely published South African poets and much of his work has been translated into many different languages. His books of poetry include: My Name is Africa, The Present Is a Dangerous Place to Live, Heartprints, When the Clouds Clear, to the Bitter End, If I Could Sing, This Way I Salute You among others.

He is a recipient of a number of literary awards including the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the Herman Charles Bosman Prize and the National Order of Ikhamanga: Silver (OIS). He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature and Philosophy by the University of South Africa (UNISA) in 2012.

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