Lefifi Tladi, poet extraordinaire, an inspiration

Lefifi Tladi. Pic. Mbuzeni Zulu. 0410/07. © Sowetan.
Lefifi Tladi. Pic. Mbuzeni Zulu. 0410/07. © Sowetan.

Patience Bambalele

Patience Bambalele

Internationally-acclaimed poet, visual artist and jazz singer, Lefifi Tladi, says a nation without artists is like a boat without radar.

Born at Lady Selborne, Pretoria, in 1949, Tladi shared this feeling at the opening of a new art gallery in Kagiso.

Based in Sweden, Tladi is one of the best artists this country has produced. As we sit down behind the gallery in Kagiso, chatting about his fruitful career, I realise that the man is an intellectual. He knows his story inside out.

Tladi is among the artists who are exhibiting at the newly opened Back Yard Gallery.

"I feel honoured to be part of the new black history. Kgosi Khumalo has done well to open a place that will keep the dreams of artists alive."

He feels that today's artists are not motivated. "Art is more like a calling to me. In our time we did not do art for fun or to make money.

"We were motivated by the struggle and were dedicated to uplifting the consciousness of the society through art. You cannot put a value on spiritual things. It is a bit of an act of desperation," he says.

Tladi, who plans to leave the country next month, has spent most of his time here hosting workshops and imparting knowledge to the youth. He hates it that many people think they can be poets.

"First of all I do not believe in talent. In order to succeed, you need 10percent genius and 90percent hard work. Since teaching these young kids, I realise that they have a language inferiority complex. They do not want to use their own language in poetry."

Boasting 40 years of experience, Tladi used art to connect with and mobilise the Black Consciousness Movement during the apartheid years.

Tladi co-founded the band Dashiki in 1969. He then opened a small museum for contemporary black art in GaRankuwa in 1970, which was forced to close four years later.

He was arrested in 1976, but fled to Botswana where he pursued his passion for art through exhibitions in Gaborone.

In 1980, he went to Gerlesborgsskolan in Stockholm, Sweden, to study art.

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