The thinker, poet and painter, Lefifi Tladi was born in 1949 in the culturally vibrant township of Lady Selborne in Pretoria. The township fell victim to apartheid’s forced removals as a so-called Black spot. A Black spot was an area of land that Black people bought legally in what the government considered as White South Africa. People who lived in Black spots were told to leave their places and later removed forcefully to make way for White people.
Owing to his goatee beard, he was nicknamed Jomo after Kenya’s post independence hero, Jomo Kenyata who had a similar goatee. In 1966 Tladi co-founded a youth club, De-Olympia in the township of Ga-Rankuwa in Pretoria. In 1970 the four-roomed house that hosted the activities of the youth club was transformed into a museum of contemporary black art. De-Olympia organised art exhibitions around the townships and homes of diplomats in and around Pretoria. Unfortunately, after three years running the apartheid forces closed it down.
In 1969 he co-founded the jazz band, Malombo Jazz Messengers, which was later, called Dashiki Malopo, the trance-inducing music of the Bapedi, influenced Dashiki’s compositions. Initially Tladi played African drums in the band before he focused solely on poetry and painting. Dashiki’s live performances across the South African townships merged music with poetry that was heavily influenced by the socio-political situation in the country. The performances were part of the Black Consciousness’ contribution towards what they regarded as the reassertion of the oppressed Black majority’s sense of humanness.
Tladi burst into the national South African political scene during the 1970s through participation in the Black Consciousness Movement’s cultural events. Groups such as MDALI, Batsumi, Malapanetharo, Black Arts Studios, and others around the country participated in the cultural events. Black Consciousness strived to reawaken the oppressed Black majority from a decade of political and cultural lull since apartheid’s heavy-handed response to unarmed marchers in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. Since most political and cultural leaders were either jailed or exiled, the Black Consciousness filled this vacuum in the country.
In 1976 Tladi skipped bail after he was arrested for participating in the students’ insurrection that begun in Soweto. Tladi went to exile in Botswana where he participated in cultural programs with groups such as the MEDU Cultural Ensemble and Dashiki. These cultural groupings hosted workshops that involved some of the Batswana as well as South Africans in and outside the country. A Swedish diplomat spotted him during an exhibition of his work at Gaborone National Museum. This chance meeting in 1980 afforded Tladi an opportunity to receive a scholarship that enabled him to study what he calls European Art History in Stockholm.
Tladi returned to South Africa in 1997. Currently his paintings are exhibited in museums and galleries across the globe. He performs with different bands and individuals such as Tlokwe Sehume, Zim Nqawana and The Brus Trio among others. From his home in Ga-Rankuwa, in Mabopane and at different universities, he hosts poetry and art workshops.