Keorapetse Kgositsile, also known as “Bra Willie” passed away just after New Year 2018. Nine years ago South Africa’s Poet Laureate spoke at the launch of The Encyclopaedia of South African Arts, Culture And Heritage (ESAACH) project in Pietermaritzburg. The project was an important part of my life, and Kgositsile’s presence there that day was a real honour. You can listen to his comments here.
Here’s an extract from a paper that my ESAACH colleague Niall McNulty and I presented at a conference on Art and Social Justice, held at Durban University of Technology.
“While it was Nelson Mandela who most publicly bestowed the identity of ‘rainbow nation’ on the newly-democratised South Africa, twenty years before, Keorapetse Kgositsile had already invoked the ‘rainbow tribe’ image in his poem ‘Origins’. Since then, Kgositsile has himself become woven into the tapestry of post-apartheid South Africa, as Poet Laureate, from which vantage he articulates a profound challenge for an emerging nation: how to nurture an inclusive cultural identity where before there was only division and oppression.
‘ …straight ahead
the memory beckons from the future you and I a tribe of colours
this song that dance godlike rhythms to birth footsteps of memory
the very soul aspires to.’
(Keorapetse Kgositsile, ‘Origins’, 1969)”
Stewart, Graham and Niall McNulty. 2010. Tribe of colours – reclaiming identity via the Web, in T. Starkey and J. Jordaan (eds) Proceedings of the ‘Art and Social Justice’ International Conference. Durban University of Technology, 21-24 March 2010, 253-265