Keorapetse Kgositsile: Homesoil in My Blood: A Trilogy (Xarra Books, 2017)

“When we heard that Africa’s last original poet left us for the world of Mazisi Kunene, Pablo Neruda and Agostinho Neto, we said not our Kgositsile, because he crosses borders without leaving” (my emphasis).      – From the eulogy by (then) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

Keorapetse Kgositsile (1938-2018) was 23 years old when he left apartheid South Africa in 1961, at the instruction of the ANC, the African National Congress. He was to spend the next 29 years in exile, first in the US  – via Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – , then back to Africa as a professor and lecturer across the continent, before returning to a post-apartheid South Africa in 1990, to be appointed National Poet Laureate in 2006.

In America from 1962 to 1975 he became associated with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and beyond, friend to a large number of  African American poets, musicians  and political activists, as well as fellow African exiles like South African musician Hugh Masekela and Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart, 1958, a.o.).

Out of his first seven volumes of poetry, six were published in the US, most by Third World Press and Broadside Press. A favorite of my own is Places and Blodstains: Notes for Ipeleng, published by his fellow exile Chinua Achebe (Achebe Publication, Oakland, California, 1975).

Keorapetse Kgositsile linked the black consciousness movements of the US and South Africa. Even after his return to South Africa, he made several visits back to America, lecturing and reading from/performing his poetry with artists from The Black Arts Movement. And most anthologies of African American poetry covering that period will include poems by this South African exile.

In Homesoil in My Blood, his 10th and final book of poetry, the leaders and events of post-apartheid, democratic South Africa are not spared criticism. But the majority of the poems document the evils of a racist South Africa in the days of apartheid, as well as poems saluting the writers, musicians, politicians, and ordinary people that brought apartheid South Africa to its knees and fought colonialism and racism around the world:

Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Bram Fischer; Solomon Mahlangu; Mazisi Kunene, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Mongane Wally Serote; Hugh Masekela, Johnny Dyani; Malcolm X; Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Haki R.Madhubuti (his publisher at Third World Press); John Coltrane, Nina Simone; Fidel Castro; Chinua Achebe, Pablo Neruda, Nicolas Guillen, and many more.

To every birth its pain. Following is an excerpt from the poem When the Deal Goes Down, on the disruption of family life and relationships in a time of revolutionary struggle:

“I do not know my father/ Papa is always busy/ He does not know me either/ I pick up pieces of my father/ From all the uncles I meet/ In search of him/ Who is my father/ I try to fit these pieces together/ To give birth to my father.