We are mourning the loss of our father, husband and grandfather, Bankole “Kole” Omotoso, who passed away after a long period of illness in Johannesburg on July 19, 2023.
Born in Akure, Nigeria, in 1943, he attended King’s College in Lagos. He then graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1969. He attained his PhD in Arabic Literature from the University of Edinburgh in 1972.
Omotoso returned to Nigeria with his wife and our late mother, Marguerita Rice, and joined the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at his alma mater. He stayed at the University of Ibadan until 1976 before taking a teaching position at the University of Ife’s Drama Department.
During this time, his three children were born – Akin in Ibadan, Pelayo in Ife and Yewande in Marguerita’s hometown of Bridgetown, Barbados, where the family spent a year.
Omotoso’s work, in particular, the publication of the novel “Just Before Dawn” in 1988, put him in conflict with political powers forcing him to largely work outside of Nigeria from 1989.
Keen to reunite the family, the Omotosos relocated to Cape Town, where Omotoso held professor positions at the English Department of the University of the Western Cape and the University of Stellenbosch’s Drama Department.
A lifelong educator, he finally ended his academic career when he retired from Elizade University in 2017.
His Yoruba heritage greatly influenced his view of the world and his work. A few years before his passing, he realised a lifelong dream of building a homestead in his hometown of Akure designed by his daughter Yewande. Here he lived with his wife Bukky and her children Taiwo and Olamiposi from 2016 until he returned to South Africa in 2019 for medical treatment.
In spite of being unwell, he continued his weekly column in the Sunday Guardian until 2021.
Prof Kole Omotoso lived a life rich with meaning and purpose. Always on the quest for knowledge, he never missed an opportunity to engage in new topics. An astute socio-political critic, his critique never got in the way of his belief in humanity but was always in service to humanity.
Most South Africans knew him for his role in the Vodacom “Yebo Gogo” advert. He was so much more than an actor, a husband, father, grandfather, author, playwright, teacher, critic, academic, mentor, and friend.
We will miss him, but find solace in the knowledge that his legacy will continue to live on through his work; through his three children Akin, Pelayo and Yewande, through Bukky, Taiwo and Olamiposi, and his grandchildren Alula, Itai, Paida, Kehinde and Taiye.