A Baobab tree has fallen and its reverberation has caused a political tremor not only in our country but also across our continent and the world over.
From humble beginnings growing up on the dusty streets of Johannesburg, Professor Keorapetse “Bra Willie” Kgositsile grew to become a truly gentle political giant, an accomplished scholar, a highly decorated poet and cultural worker and an uncompromising internationalist.
A versatile revolutionary, Prof perfected the art of relating theory with practice. Even though you were an academic you also not only understood the importance and correctness of our armed struggle but you became a fearless combatant of our People’s Army, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Your involvement in political and combat work has contributed in no small measure to the successes we made against the fascist, apartheid armed forces.
Talking about your involvement in the armed struggle reminds me of your glowing words in a poem you titled the Red Song:
“If I could sing...
My opening lines would be:
Need I remind anyone
That the armed struggle
Is an act of love?”
Prof cherished education as he believed that it was one of the potent tools available to the oppressed to lift themselves out of their subjugation and oppression. It is therefore not surprising that you pursued education to become one of the most accomplished scholars who taught in universities in Botswana, Kenya, Zambia and the United States of America, to mention but a few.
You worked, in academia, alongside struggle veterans like Ruth First, hence it is a befitting tribute that at the time of his passing, you were leading efforts to establish the Ruth First Policy Institute – a policy and research thinktank for the ANC in Gauteng that will develop proposals that will inform policies that will bring the dream of a better life to all our people closer.
Those who did not know you would easily be misled by your tiny physical stature until a conversation ensues. Armed with an incisive mind and witty humour, Prof would easily disarm friends and foes alike with his exceptional academic and political intellect.
Always humble and one never to resort to insults and intimidation, you would utilise your intellectual acumen to persuade others and win them over to the cause for freedom and democracy. Being an intellectual par excellence, Prof was a marvel to watch when you patiently explained your views and persuasively presented a case for liberation of the oppressed and downtrodden.
Prof’s contribution to the development of our country did not end with the attainment of liberation. You were a dedicated public servant who utilised your knowledge and experience as a cultural worker to develop policies that positioned the creative industries at the cutting edge of economic development.
Your attainment of the South African Poet Laureate Prize and being honoured with the National Order of Ikhamanga for your contribution to the field of literature bear testimony to your unflinching commitment and selfless work as a cultural activist.
Working with a political heavyweight and intellectual giant of your calibre was an unforgettable experience and a humbling privilege. It was indeed an honour to work with you as my Advisor whilst I was serving as the Minister of Arts and Culture. Prof worked hard, your advanced age notwithstanding and your wealth of experience and natural wisdom showed through and impacted the work of that Department.
It is no exaggeration that the Mzansi Golden Economy – a roadmap to position the creative industries at the centre of inclusive growth is a product of your efforts and wisdom.
Always one to put a smile one other people’s faces through his wittiness and humour, Prof touched the lives of many of us in an unforgettable way. I have lost a friend, a father and a counsellor that was always ready to not only advice but also lead from the front.
The African National Congress has lost a fearless combatant and our country has lost a selfless servant. In your memory, we need to intensify efforts to change our people’s lives for the better. What a better tribute to your contribution to the liberation we are enjoying than serving our people selflessly and with distinction.
Fare thee well our accomplished poet, principled political and cultural activist and an indefatigable revolutionary!
Robala ka kagiso Morolong! Ke namane ya tholo!
* Paul Mashatile, Chairperson of ANC Gauteng and former Minister of Arts and Culture