I lost a friend, father who advised and led from the front

President Jacob Zuma has declared a special official funeral for the late political activist and poet Professor William Keorapetse Kgositsile who died on Wednesday.
President Jacob Zuma has declared a special official funeral for the late political activist and poet Professor William Keorapetse Kgositsile who died on Wednesday.
Image: Tshepo Kekana

A baobab tree has fallen and its reverberation has caused a political tremor not only in our country but across our continent and the world over.

From humble beginnings in Johannesburg, Professor Keorapetse "Bra Willie" Kgositsile grew to become a truly gentle political giant. He was an accomplished scholar, a highly decorated poet and cultural worker and an uncompromising internationalist.

A versatile revolutionary, Bra Willie perfected the art of relating theory with practice. Even though he was an academic, he also not only understood the importance and correctness of our armed struggle but he became a fearless combatant of our People's Army, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).

Bra Willie, 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 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 US. Kgositsile worked in academia alongside struggle veterans like Ruth First. Incidentally, at the time of his death, he was leading efforts for the establishment of the Ruth First Policy Institute - a policy and research think-tank for the ANC in Gauteng.

Those who did not know Bra Willie would easily be misled by his 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, he would utilise his intellectual acumen to persuade others and win them over to the cause for freedom and democracy. Prof was a marvel to watch when he patiently explained his views and persuasively presented a case for liberation of the oppressed and downtrodden.

Beyond liberation, Bra Willie became a dedicated public servant who utilised his knowledge and experience as a cultural worker to develop policies that positioned the creative industries at the cutting edge of economic development.

His attainment of the South African Poet Laureate prize and being honoured with the National Order of Ikhamanga for his contribution to the field of literature bear testimony to his unflinching commitment and selfless work as a cultural activist.

Working with this political heavyweight and intellectual giant was an unforgettable experience and a humbling privilege.

It was indeed an honour to have him as my adviser while I was serving as the minister of arts and culture. Prof worked hard, his advanced age notwithstanding.

Always one to put a smile on other people's faces through his quick wit, Prof touched the lives of many of us in an unforgettable way. I have lost a friend, a father and a counsellor who led from the front.

The ANC 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!