Tuesday, March 31, 2015


By Omoseye Bolaji

How does one write about an intriguing multi-faceted individual like Flaxman Qoopane? Should it comprise reminiscences, vignettes, or just a focus on his literary persona? A disparate melange of all this, perhaps.  

Down memory lane. Almost 20 years ago. I was new in South Africa then, though rather ensconced in the townships of Mangaung (Free State) already. It was a cold, withering day; many years ago now, but a day very easy to remember. My birthday.

Despite the cold, I was perched on an archaic, yet comfortable chair just outside my house; never mind home! As I was all alone. Some birthday, I was thinking cynically. Later on in the day I must at least go to a decent restaurant and whip up a congenial meal, with some drinks to go with it, I thought. I surveyed the secluded nippy ambience, and grinned to myself again. Some birthday indeed!!

Then I found myself smiling ruefully, almost in disbelief as I saw a group of people moving towards my house! I had not invited any one, but the coterie was decidedly walking towards me! They came nearer and my smile intensified as I recognised a few of them.

 In the forefront, leading them all was Flaxman Qoopane himself, laughing apparently to himself. There was a fine cake in his arms. Complete with icing. I also recognised Tiisetso Makhele, then very young but already a fine poet (he would later on become a well known columnist and essayist).    

 Qoopane unleashed his nonpareil, distinctive, arresting voice, saying: "Bolaji, did you really think I'd let your birthday pass and go like that without doing anything about it? I have brought a birthday cake for you, and these gentlemen will mark the event with you; they are all writers/artists. Now come on, let's enter your house away from the cold. The gentlemen here will sit down while you and I organise other snacks and drinks for them...'

That was Flaxman Qoopane at his best, warm, generous, solicitous, great organiser. And yes it was a memorable birthday with poems, literary essays, etc being recited by those who had turned up impromptu fashion, to grace the occasion.  

In those days - although Mangaung, Bloemfontein city was quite a large place - there
was hardly any black print journalist on the scene. In fact only a young Mpikeleni Duma - a splendid gentleman - was recognised as the main black journalist at the time, writing for the national daily, Sowetan.
But by the time of this particular birthday of mine Flaxman Qoopane and I were close to being household names in Mangaung too, thanks to Next magazine which was very popular then; and Qoopane and I regularly had articles written by us published in
virtually every edition. People would see us and proudly exclaim: "Next!!!" Our fame was such that it was only to be surpassed many years later when Qoopane and I became part and parcel of a truly national, exceedingly popular  daily newspaper - Daily Sun.

But it should be pointed out that long before our "journalistic fame" in Mangaung even started, Qoopane and I were already established journalists, so to speak. On my own part I had already published hundreds of articles in west African and even European publications; Qoopane had done the same too from his East African (Tanzania) base
and was already established as a poet. Yet our creative liaison in Mangaung was extraordinarily thrilling and exhilarating.

Publication in attractive, colour magazines (like Next) was very heady indeed. I vividly remember those early days again when around Sanlam Plaza a young lady came to me one day, concern etched on her face. She said uncertainly: "Ntate, you are Mr Qoopane's friend, aren't you? I used to see you two together...".

 "Yes, is there any problem?" I asked.

 "Well - " she hesitated. "He's at the other corner there...he's...well, he's running around, shouting, yelling...it's frightening. Maybe you'd care to check out what's...ah...wrong...".

So I moved towards where she indicated and true enough Flaxman was in an excited state, but quieter now. Upon seeing me he screamed: "Bolaji! Bolaji! Come and see...we must celebrate...have some drinks! My articles have appeared in Realtime
magazine!!! Yoooh..." He threw the pertinent magazine towards me and I went through it. So that was why he was so excited! Indeed we celebrated; and Qoopane encouraged me to send articles to that magazine too, and when they were published I was a very happy person too.

Every Monday in those days, we would look forward, agog with anticipation, to the next burnished edition of Next. Once in a blue moon neither of us would have our articles published, and it would be a very sad day indeed! Qoopane would almost be in tears then. "I know we'll probably have 2 or 3 articles each in the next edition, but it
is still very painful..." he would say lugubriously.

Over the years we would be published in many other publications - like Hola, Sowetan, Bona, Drum, Daily Sun, E And E (which I edited), Kopanang (which I edited too), and of course Free State News. The way Qoopane would ferret out news and scintillating feature stories was extraordinary and laudable.         

 But this did not mean that we did not have our fights and quarrels, especially when we began to publish books. Intermittently tensions would arise, and after flashes of anger I would retreat into my own shell. It reached a stage where I withdrew into the townships, getting a completely different accommodation which I was sure Qoopane and others in the literary fraternity would never discover. It would be like a sabbatical, I thought. I'd miss these guys but -   

Then there was a knock on my front door one day. Who could it be? I hardly knew anybody here. It must be that guy always begging for money to buy some cigarettes, I was sure. That's township life. I opened the door.  

And there stood Flaxman!! Grinning too. "How the **** did you find out where I stay
now?" I blurted out. Laughing he retorted: "This is my hometown, where I have my roots, where I have my finger on everything so to speak. What's wrong with you? You can't just disappear like that. We have many stories and books to work on...don't be childish...let's work!".

Qoopane whenever he wants to can be a majestic, awe-inspiring diplomat, pouring oil on troubled waters...there was the time I got into trouble after one of my articles was published in a national paper; alas the editors of the paper had creatively embellished the piece to the extent that it looked salacious and insulting to a particular gentleman - who promptly went on the warpath as soon as the article was out! He swore to "destroy" me.

Till this day I am amazed at how Qoopane handled this gentleman; it was soothing, mesmeric. Qoopane calmed him down to the extent that the gentleman even hugged me and called me his "brother"! For Qoopane as I was far away from home I should be protected, in essence. Even now the most important awards I garnered in South Africa are in Mr Qoopane's custody.

And now some thoughts on Flaxman Qoopane and general literature, with the Free State as a centre. Which is not to discount or undermine his contributions to African poetry for many decades now, long before returning to his beloved South Africa. Seeing him perform on stage with his majestic voice is an experience in itself.     

Qoopane himself has published many books; I often hear the figure of ten being put forward. It might surprise many that the man has published at least 20 books, not all of them issued commercially. Hence for researchers and scholars who might be consulting Google Books or worldcat, they might end up being stumped. Qoopane
himself regards his literary work as being "major" and "minor" - which
of course is an artificial prism.  

I was there with him when his early books were first published, and he has admitted in books, documentaries that I helped him a lot with his early works - but that is neither here nor there. I have no doubt in my mind that his favourite book is Reneiloe-Mpho's story - allegedly "written by"/dedicated to his daughter - when she was only two years old!      

Ineluctably the pride of Qoopane's life is indeed his daughter, Reneiloe-Mpho; it was a pleasure watching her grow up from a baby to the beautiful young woman she is now. Up till a few years ago whenever she saw me, although shy and reserved by nature, she would shout: "Chief! Chief!".  

I also consider Qoopane's book, Women of Talent to be an important work. How well I remember a certain lady featured in the book almost "fighting" me in her excitement, after I told her she's featured in the book, which is available in so many libraries. "Are you telling me my name and photo - a feature on me - is in a book, and I don't even know about it? You are lying! If the book is in the libraries, show it to me now! Let's go to the library! Hence I was happy to go with the lady - first name Cecilia - and show
her the book at the nearest library!

To say that Qoopane is fulsomely in love with the world of writers and literature in general might well be an understatement. From an early age when he was in exile abroad he began to correspond with writers from around the world. Note that there is something charmingly old-fashioned about this; as this was an era before the internet or even before general mobile phones. It was sheer physical correspondence, letters posted, acknowledged, replied and reciprocated via many countries.

That is what makes the book, Letters to a poet (edited by Alitta M Mokhuoa, and focusing on Qoopane's extensive early correspondence) an important one; as we can read the thoughts of the likes of Zakes Mda, Njabulo Ndebele, Vonani Bila etc; many of them now celebrated writers.

And Flaxman Qoopane would meet many of these writers in the flesh too, over the decades; at literary conferences and workshops, glittering award nites and the like. I myself would meet many of these exalted gentlemen and ladies too, thanks to Ntate Qoopane "the man with the camera" (as many ordinary people had dubbed him thanks to his journalistic excellence).

By the way, Qoopane is a much more versatile writer than many pundits would realise. Study his literary work and see for yourself - the man has published not only biographies, but general essays and articles, criticism, poetry, juvenilia. I for one still relish his early work of appreciation of my own writing, entitled O Bolaji: Perspectives on his literary work (2003). 

Qoopane used to have a superb private library comprising so many fine books and magazines (it was in those early days that I was struck with the excellence of Free State Libraries publication, for example). I would gulp and marvel at thevariety of books at his place, and Qoopane would just smile and say:"Ag, this is me; my life. Books. Writers. Encouraging the young ones,our people in general, to read," But this was before the days of Qoopane Literary Gallery.  

As the founder and curator of Qoopane Literary Gallery Qoopane really came into his own and niche. Now Flaxman has made the Gallery world famous. Anybody who doubts this can just write the words "Qoopane Literary Gallery" on the general internet and be flooded with much more details!   

Qoopane's enthusiasm and glee over the Gallery reached its zenith during the 2010 Fifa World Cup finals hosted by South Africa. I remember Qoopane shaking with unbridled excitement as he told me at the time how foreign tourists from around the world were frequenting his literary Gallery and awed  by its contents. Of course I would see
for myself...     

But let me stop here for the moment.   I believe I have briefly shown here how much Flaxman Qoopane in his lifetime loves, and blossoms in the world of writing generally - journalism, sundry books, pertinent conferences, literary gallery et al. Happy 60th Birthday, "papa"!!! - By Omoseye Bolaji
* Above photo: Bolaji (left) and Flaxman Qoopane. Portrait of Bolaji also inset


A Poet Abroad
Memoirs of a Cultural Activist
Adventures in Journalism
Reneiloe-Mpho's story 
Macufe 2001
Women of Talent
Gilbert Modise: the man and the myth
View from my Window
O Bolaji: Perspectives on his literary work
The Conference
City of Roses and Literary Icons
Scintillating stars from the vibrant soil

Suggested Reading

Letters to a poet (edited by Alitta Molebogeng Mokhuoa)
Thoughts on FS Writing (by O Bolaji)
The Growth of FS Black writing (by Bareng Mogorosi)
Free State Writers Talking (edited by Molebogeng Mokhuoa)
Fillets of Plaice By O Bolaji 


  1. A superb, majestic awesome tribute. Not in any way critical though, which is understandable because of the history they share

  2. Very moving and authoritative - yet knowing Ntate Bolaji one suspects that this excellent piece would be rather antiseptic

  3. It is commendable to see Mr Bolaji - virtually retired from writing now - coming out to pen this thrilling tribute to Mr Qoopane. Bolaji's impact on literature in SA has been unbelievable, and his good works will live on for a long long time in the world of literature. And Happy Birthday to Mr Qoopane

  4. Great article Malome, It's more like an extension of your Thoughts on Free State Writing. It is clearly not some Miscellaneous Writings but a Ghostly Adversary from a legend who “qu'on se le dise” has secretly retired from his active literature activities. This article brings memory of a Voyage around your literary work. Just like Tebogo's spot of brother, you have many untold stories around your friendship and journey together with Flaxman. Remember shasha...

    Far Up, Far Out, Far More, your connection with the SA literature can be described as an impossible love, Even when they never say when they will invite you to south africa to reconnect with the likes of Pule, Hector, Biggie, Madam Maki, Lizzy....

  5. Congratulations in advance, Ntate Qoopane...it has been a long arduous journey, one festooned with a cornucopia of sacrifices - before you became a literary icon! Jabulane...

  6. The authentic countdown to Ntate Qoopane's birthday has started...it must be pointed out that, contrary to what many ignorant, benighted Africans might think, literary criticism is part of literature, part of being a writer; criticizing a writer/his works does not mean there is bad blood - on the contrary

  7. Happy 60th Birthday today, Mr Qoopane!!