By Irene Gaitirira
Published January 7, 2018
Keorapetse William Kgositsile, a leading South African poet and political activist also known by his pen name, Bra Willie, has passed away.
“His death should inspire young authors and poets into wanting to read and write in our languages. Bra Willie’s pen spoke volumes in fostering identity and enlightened many during the darker days in our past. His wit served its purpose,” the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture of the Parliament of South Africa says in its ‘condolences to the family, the community of writing and all those who will be most impacted by the departure of this renowned South African poet.’
Kgositsile, who once taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania between 1975 and 1990, died on January 3, 2018 at a Johannesburg hospital. He was 79.
The Chairperson of the Committee, Xoliswa Tom, says South Africa ‘is poorer without this giant of the world of poetry’.
“Not too many in our generation will ever be able to master and marry arts, activism, family and political life in the manner he has,” Tom says.
Kgositsile is said to have been one of the first people to bridge the gap between African poetry and Black poetry in the United States of America during his exile there between 1962 and 1975, a period described as the peak of his literary career.
Bra Willie is reported to not only have made an extensive study of African-American literature and culture but that he was also well known for his readings in New York City jazz clubs.
Some of Keorapetse William Kgositsile’s poetry collections include:
- Beyond Words: South African Poetics, with Don Mattera, Lebo Mashile and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers; foreword by Margaret Busby. Flipped Eye Publishing, 2009.
- This Way I Salute You. Cape Town: Kwela Books, and Snailpress, 2004
- If I Could Sing: Selected Poems. Roggebaai, South Africa: Kwela Books, and Plumstead, South Africa: Snailpress, 2002
- To the Bitter End. Chicago: Third World Press, 1995
- When the Clouds Clear. Johannesburg: Congress of South African Writers, 1990
- The Present is a Dangerous Place to Live. Chicago: Third World Press, 1975. 2nd edition 1993
- Places and Bloodstains: Notes for Ipeleng. Oakland, California: Achebe Publications, 1975
- My Name is Afrika; introduction by Gwendolyn Brooks. New York: Doubleday, 1971
- For Melba: Poems. Chicago: Third World Press, 1970, and
- Spirits Unchained. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969.
Professor Kgositsile who returned to South Africa the day before Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 and shortly thereafter began working as an advisor to the minister of arts and culture, was named South Africa’s National Poet Laureate in 2006.