Bro Willie, We Met Before We Met
A Tribute to Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, SA’s National Poet Laureate.
By Morakabe Raks Seakhoa –
It was in the heady ‘70s, just on the eve of the 1976 eruptions that shook the apartheid substructure to its very core that you gallantly marched into our youthful consciousness.
Your larger than life, your gigantic lyrical, fiery lines of conscientising poetic mrhabulo illumined our fierce freedom march no power on earth could delay, nor even crush or stop, whether by intimidation, torture, imprisonment, maiming, disappearings, exile or death.
Your outlawed, uninhibited and roadmapping work, long before the rule of the internet, email and cellphone, miraculously and timeously found their way to our forever thirsty and welcoming minds, arming us to the teeth to explode away oppression of one by another, preparing us for the long road to today’s freedom’s birth.
What a marvel when we, at last, now met you in person, at last, at last! That was in 1990, just after you, with your sharp and bomb-like pen, pointed our oppressors’ gaze to the writing on the wall.
The writers’ fraternity, through the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW) you helped sire, welcomed you back like a long-lost guide you truly were. A never-ending festival of life-giving interaction ensued, through poetry-laden socio-political workshops, politically-nuanced and tempered poetics of our times in public readings, new dawn policy formulations, presentations and lectures (the latter you said you never really liked, rather strange for such a towering and world-respected scholar and Professor who’s every breath was you as our untiring teacher).
Post-exile, you wasted no time in getting us to walk with you the streets of our land, retracing your steps through the nooks and crannies of your being before Comrade OR Tambo called you abroad to help broaden, deepen and rebuild our people’s parliament, the African National Congress that the oppressor vowed to obliterate.
Your intellect unparalleled, clarity of mind and thought, sage-like, drew queens, kings, presidents, ministers, premiers and city mothers and fathers like moth to light: making you their advisor of choice.
We at the wRite associates take pride in, with the assistance and partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture, being the lightning rod for the process of establishing the South African Literary Awards that bestowed on you the title of the pre-eminent poet of the nation, the South African National Poet Laureate, after your elder brother and comrade, Professor Mazisi Kunene, who handed you this baton after his departure yonder.
As we bid you farewell, Bro Willie, our foremost mentor, Comrade and lodestar, we derive solace in the fact that, much to your chagrin and initial toyitoying against our idea and intention of honouring you, your memory and your precious, precious legacy with the Keorapetse Kgositsile Annual Lecture four years ago, you finally, albeit reluctantly, acquiesced to our request and, to the very end, gave it your unconditional support and presence at all the presentations thereof.
Bro Willie, hard as it is, we have no choice but to accept your departure yonder, in the full knowledge that, with you and your forever beloved, Aus’ Baby’s abiding counsel, in this the fourth anniversary of the Keorapetse Kgositsile Annual Lecture, your fourscore coming of age was, or, rather, is, going to be a bonfire literary affair like no other, “letting countless flowers blossom and innumerable schools of thought contend” amongst your peers, friends he young and old, colleagues and all everywhere.
This way we shall and must salute you, our Prof, our National Poet Laureate, our Bro Willie!
Robala ka kgotso. Robala ka kgutso, Bro Willie, you Forever Young!
Morakabe Raks Seakhoa is a poet, founder director of the wRite associates and the South African Literary Awards, convenor of Africa Century International African Writers Conference and Keorapetse Kgositsile Annual Lecture