Activist and poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, also known as Bra Willie, died at the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday. He was 79.
Kgositsile was battling a short illness at the hospital, South African outlet News24 reports. Family spokesperson Terry Fowler told the news site that Kgositsile had undergone surgery after suffering from circulatory problems.
South African President Jacob Zuma honored the poet in a statement, per Times Live.
“Today our country mourns the sad passing of one of the giants of our liberation struggle who was renowned for his accomplishment as well in the education‚ arts and culture sectors,” Zuma said. “He was highly regarded even beyond the borders of our country and was a celebrated arts intellectual in the continent. We extend our deepest condolences to the family. May his soul rest in peace.”
Kgositsile, the father of American rapper Earl Sweatshirt, was part of the African National Congress liberation movement during the 1960s. He began his writing career at the same time, working for Johannesburg’s anti-apartheid newspaper New Age.
In 1962, Kgositsile went into exile in the United States, where he eventually received a master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia University. He began writing extensively about jazz. In 1969, he published his first poetry collection, Spirits Unchained. Two years later he founded the Black Arts Theatre in Harlem and published his well-known collection My Name Is Afrika.
He moved back to Africa in 1975, becoming a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. In 1990, he returned to post-apartheid South Africa, where he advised the minister of arts and culture. Kgositsile was honored with the South African Poet Laureate Prize in 2006.
After news of his death broke, many people paid homage to Kgositsile’s life and works on Twitter. Among them was Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s current minister of arts and culture:
The South African Parliament ― where Kgositsile’s former wife, Baleka Mbete, serves as speaker of the National Assembly ― also released a statement: “The remarkable legacy of Bra Willie‚ as he was affectionately known‚ cannot die‚ but will live on to continue to inspire many to use culture to advance the development of people of South Africa.”