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Keorapetse Kgositsile: A Life in Quotes

(Last Updated On: September 25, 2018)

“I suppose it goes back to one thing: to play with language [when asked about the relationship between art and activism, meaning, him being both a writer and a political activist]… It shouldn’t just be a question of what to say but how to say it.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“After exile, I realized there are advantages of poetry, of poems. For those of us banned by the apartheid regime that is almost like being exiled to silence. Because poetry can be memorized, can be passed around orally, it rendered the banning irrelevant. When I returned home, I found there were some younger poets who welcomed me in different parts of the country by reciting my work.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“We have to accept that there are no neutral statements, that every time you open your mouth to say something the chances are when it’s analyzed it’s opposed to some values or it offends some values or it proposes some other values. I don’t think that there is a statement that anyone can make that falls outside those categories. When you write, you cannot be neutral. Otherwise you are deluding yourself or consciously lying, which is not neutral either, hence the didactic thing.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“I think the role of the artist remains what it has historically been, which is, essentially to explore and celebrate or criticize or try to give moral support. I’m talking about an artist with a sense of social responsibility. I’m trying to say, I think, that products of the heart, like a poem or a piece of music are very limited because they are not like manuals but because they function at a spiritual level. But an artist who has a sense of social responsibility has the same responsibility as everyone else in society because before anything else – before computers, paint, and brushes – before any of that you are a human being, a member of your society, and therefore you owe allegiance to certain values and that is what you try to express through your art.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“A song or a poem can move you, but after that you still need a program of action at the practical level. Even after all the inspiration that one can get from the arts, you would need programs of action at the level of practical implementation for that transformation.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“The lived experience influences and gives fire to my imagination. The texture of life informs and influences my handling of language as a literary artist. There is a dialectical relationship between the two that cannot be broken by any force on this planet. In other words, when what I write is political it is because I am unapologetically political; what I write defines who I am and that should say something about what choices I will make in life, what I will and what I will not do.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“[When asked what would freedom in South Africa look like] For me it would be when there is no exploitation of any one group of people by another. It would be when capitalism is a way of the past because I think it should be clear to us that unless we change the economic system, which determines social relations, we’ll always have problems. If we continue along a capitalist path, it means we are saying the majority of the people will remain exploited and how do we talk of freedom then? So for me, it would be without that kind of environment; we would have created a new one, in which case then we’d be able to laugh and celebrate life.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kalamazoo College, 15 October 2014.

“What you know is merely a point of departure. So let’s move.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“All things come to pass‚ when they do. If they do. All things come to an end. Whenthey do.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“University degrees, including doctoral ones, should never be allowed to be terminal, like an illness. It does not stop with being awarded a degree. It can never be a destination; it remains, permanently, a road to be travelled. And that pursuit for knowledge can never be for its own sake; it must be used as an instrument to equip us to be of better service to society; an instrument to enable us to be instrumental agents of our historic mission, which is to create a better future for the majority of our people.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“In a situation of oppression, there are no choices beyond didactic writing: either you are a tool of oppression or an instrument of liberation.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“But any Time is with us. And if we take control to shape our attitude and reshape our memories, that time is always now – our time for the best possible uses of our lives.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“Beware, my son, words that carry the loudnesses of blind desire also carry the slime of illusion dripping like pus from the slave’s battered back.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“Those things in life that matter will give you pain as you learn to understand life.” – Keorapetse Kgositsile, Writers Write, 19 September 2014.

“All cultural explorers. . . start off from specific roots which color their vision and define the allegiances of the work of art they produce.”

“When the clouds clear we shall know the colour of the sky.”

“Gut it is will move us from the gutter .. . to the rebirth of real men.”