Comrade Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile, affectionately known as Bra Willie, died last week after undergoing surgery for circulatory problems. He was a literary giant, leading intellectual and academic, a cultural activist, freedom fighter and this country’s second poet laureate.
A few years ago I attended birthday celebrations for another one of our literary giants, the late Lewis Nkosi https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/22/lewis-nkosi-obituary-south-africa There, I met the wife of the late poet Mazisi Kunene and SA’s first poet laureate, and learned that she was contemplating approaching the University of California, where he worked for 19 years, regarding the preservation of his works. Not out of choice or from a lack of trying to have the material archived here, but because there wasn’t the interest and commitment in this country to preserving what should be our treasured cultural property. I was outraged! And I penned a scathing article on the arts and culture department and archivists of our political and cultural heritage. The article received a favourable response from the National English Literary Museum and other institutions and I learnt later that a project was underway to archive Kunene’s works here.
This morning I was sent a video of a busker playing the Basotho music, famo, outside Pretoria State Theatre. He has blended the music with tap dance, producing a brilliant piece of work. Famo is a blend of koriana (accordion), poetry and spoken word. The music is rich with narratives of day-to-day lives of Basotho. I was shocked at the disinterest of the passersby. Their reaction would be quite different if the musician was playing Western music.
There’s a young man who preserves African musical instruments. It is astonishing the number of modern-day, so-called Western instruments whose inventions are “borrowed” from Africa’s ancient musical tools. His exhibitions receive very little support by way of finance and even feet coming through the door to learn.
We as Africans on the main don’t respect and value our cultural heritage. It is all part of cultural imperialism which has seen the west impose its culture on us and marginalise completely our culture and traditions, language, history and identity.
We therefore run the risk of forgetting this history completely if we dont keep it alive. And so in saluting Bra Willie, this great hero of the liberation struggle, UnCensored will each week, publish an arts and culture section that will have indigenous music and dance, African literature and theatre.
What better way of starting this section than with a poem from Bra Willie. Please comment and send material for this section on firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANGUISH LONGER THAN SORROW – Poem by Keorapetse Kgositsile
If destroying all the maps known
would erase all the boundaries
from the face of this earth
I would say let us
make a bonfire
to reclaim and sing
the human person
Refugee is an ominous load
even for a child to carry
for some children
words like home
could not carry any possible meaning
refugee< br>must carry dimensions of brutality and terror
past the most hideous nightmare
anyone could experience or imagine
Empty their young eyes
deprived of a vision of any future
they should have been entitled to
since they did not choose to be born
where and when they were
Empty their young bellies
extended and rounded by malnutrition
and growling like the well-fed dogs of some
with pretensions to concerns about human rights
Can you see them now
stumble from nowhere
the premature daily death of their young dreams
what staggering memories frighten and abort
the hope that should have been
an indelible inscription in their young eyes
I should just borrow
the rememberer’s voice again
while I can and say:
to have a home is not a favour