Warm tributes poured in for Professor Keorapetse William Kgositsile from people from different walks of life at the memorial service held at the Johannesburg City Hall.
People who gathered included individuals from the arts and culture fraternity, members of civil society, members of the African National Congress and high profile figures such as National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, actor Sello Maake ka Ncube and Jazz maestro Jonas Gwangwa.
Kgositsile, who was fondly referred to as “Bra Willy”, was described as an intellectual giant who had a love and appreciation for the arts. He dedicated his life to the arts through poetry, academia, and social activism with a staunch attachment to the ANC. He died after a short illness on January 3.
Trevor Fowler, who introduced the life and times of Bra Willy, described him as a man with “a small stature but with a giant heart”.
“Bra Willy was known throughout the world yet he remained humble. He also managed to speak the truth to those who seek the light,” he said.
Dr Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane described Kgositsile as a man with “clarity of mind, irreverence and a sense of humour that cannot be replicated”.
She said what was impressive about Bra Willy was his impressive command of the Setswana language despite having spent so much time in exile.
“He would refer to people who lost their language or accent from travelling as ‘fools’... I don’t have time for fools, he would say,” she said.
According to Mokone-Matabane, Bra Willy was an avid reader who always wanted to educate and be educated.
Gwangwa said Kgositsile was his classmate in high school and that they shared a desk.
“We lived together in New York City and he wasn’t a good cook. We had a stove with a grill on top but Willy could not reach it as he was very short. He would stand on a chair to make charred steak,” he said, adding that Kgositsile would cook and read at the same time.
Gwangwa had very fond memories with Willy of touring around the world in the name of art.
“The last time I saw Bra Willy was last year November when we met with a young man who had a show idea that he wanted us to produce,” he recalled, and the idea would never materialise now that he is dead.