Angifi Dladla with Khehla Chepape Makgatho

Acclaimed visual artist Khehla Chepape Makgato pays tribute to a poet and teacher who inspired his journey into the arts

Angifi Proctor Dladla who died recently aged 69 was passionate about the arts and used his love for creative and writing to mentor youths, prison inmates and set up community development projects.

“Poetry demands a search for the essence of things . . .Poems are with the people; they must remain there. To me poetry is the language of the soul, the lingua franca of dreams . . . I am just a matchbox for a person’s inner match to unleash his or her human goodness,” he once remarked in an interview with Michelle McGrane in the Meterlekamp.

Dladla, whose name Angifi means the undying one, was born on 24 November 1950 in Thaka township in Gauteng. During the apartheid years, he joined a long list of activists who took up pseudonyms in a bid to evade the security police.

While teaching in the East Rand, he changed his name to Muntu Wa Bachaki (person of visitors) to avoid persecution by the apartheid government.

He started writing poetry and plays while still a scholar at St Chad’s High in Ladysmith, where his works were performed by fellow students. He worked as a poet, playwright, poetry editor, schoolteacher and teacher of creative writing.

He founded community based organisations including the Bachaki Theatre and more recently the Community Life Network, a non-profit cultural organisation supporting community reconstruction and development.

He also founded Akudlalwa Communal Theatre, ERTON and Boksburg Progressive Presses and the Femba Writing Project, which initiates and facilitates school and prison newspapers and creative writing.

His first poetry collection, The Girl Who Then Feared to Sleep, was published in 2001, and he has continued to publish poems locally and internationally.

Angifi Dladla’s first poetry collection was released to acclaim in 2001.

This debut received widespread praise from critics for its wide range of styles, voices and themes; its raw power and experimental freshness, and its heartfelt response to a society in which racism, violence and the misuse of power are still endemic.

He was a poet whose work required society to look at compelling events and issues from which the first instinct has been to turn away.

The first time I met the man I referred to as Dr Angifi Dladla, was almost a decade ago in a writing workshop in Melville, Johannesburg. I was one of the aspiring poets or writers invited to participate in this workshop.

I immediately fell in love with this old man who had this soft warmth of humour, serenity of intelligence, African humanistic acumen and unwavering willingness to share knowledge with everyone around him.

After his presentation on the importance of telling our own stories through poetry, I walked to him and requested his contacts, highlighting my interest in future collaborations. He did not treat me like an amateur but like a real creative.

In his response to my first email to him sharing my community art workshops report he wrote: “It was great to meet you, especially a young man of your calibre in South Africa. I now have hope that professionalism in the arts will be taken a step further.”

From this connection, we became friends, more like a father and son relation. I’d bounce off my frustrations of life and career in the arts with him whenever we got a chance over a telephone or meet up conversations.

At times I’d buffer my aspirations, goals and wishes for the arts and cultural sector in South Africa and he supported all these with encouragement and faith in me.

Just the other day I was talking to a colleague about Dladla’s work and contributions to the arts. A friend exclaimed, ‘A Great Dance,’ which is one of the poems from Dladla’s collection. I wasn’t aware of the poem and he offered to send it to me.

Reading this poem, one is mesmerized by the language hammered out on the anvil of life itself. Words in this poem are acutely selected, they are lifted out of the fire of imaginations and reordered into the shape of poetic truth.

His metaphors are awe-inspiring whilst telling a story of probably his first romantic encounter with Mapheefo Kgetsane which he surmised the two of them ‘woke up being three, or four’ when the dance was a choreography between of only two.

Though coming from the Pan Africanist scholastic and political background, he managed to tame his contempt for apartheid by using the freedom of language.

“Violence and tyranny,” observed his mentor Es’kia Mphahlele, “are universal experiences. The artist refines the emotions by taming them with the use of language, whether they are painful or joyful, whether the celebrate or draw attention to human agony.”

More and more people, especially young people in the country should learn to appreciate and embrace the rich legacy and heritage left behind by Dladla. His passion for human development and empowerment made him use his artistic skills for social change.

He went to prisons and worked with inmates at the Modderbee prison. This resulted in an anthology of poetry written by the inmates themselves titled Reaching Out: Poems from Prison.

In two consecutive years he generously donated books including this piece of work to my community project Samanthole Creative Projects and Workshop in 2011 in Thohoyandou and 2012 in Kromhoek, Ga-Makgato. Young people learned a lot from the compilation of stories from the prison.

May the gentle soul of ‘the master of the concise, surreally tinted but devastating images of the real world,’ Angifi Proctor Dladla rest in peace and rise in glory. True to his name which means never die, his legacy lives on forever. – Mukurukuru Media

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