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RIP Phumlani Pikoli: About the author and controversial artist

The South African logo The South African 2021-04-12 Erene Roux
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Multimedia journalist and author Phumlani Pikoli has died, aged 33, a family spokesperson has confirmed.

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Phumlani Pikoli found dead

According to TimesLive, spokesperson Twiggs Xiphu said the multidisciplinary artist was found dead at an apartment in Johannesburg.

Xiphu said his father, former National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli and mom Girlie, became concerned when they could not reach him on the phone on Saturday, 10 April.

On Sunday, 11 April, they decided to drive from their home in Pretoria to Johannesburg, where Phumlani had been looking after his brother’s apartment and animals. They had last spoken to him on Friday. 

“The gruesome discovery of Phumlani’s lifeless body lying in bed is something that no parent needs to go through,” said a grieving Vusi Pikoli. 

The cause of death is unknown and is still under investigation. Xiphu said there were no visible injuries on Phumlani’s body. 

Plans are to have a memorial service on Wednesday, 14 April and the funeral two days later. More details, including the time and venue, will be communicated later.

A ‘generational ode’

In the past, Phumlani has been described as ‘a generational ode’. His debut book, The Fatuous State of Severity, was self-published in 2016 and was described as a fresh collection of short stories and illustrations that explores themes surrounding the experiences of a generation of young, urban South Africans coping with the tensions of social media, language insecurities and relationships of various kinds. Phumlani later turned some of these stories into a short film.

In the short film, titled Our Lives Are Bought, we can see Phumlani soliloquizing about his life, while we see him struggling to know what to do with himself in his house.

“The film explores classed ideas around boredom and giving meaning to one’s life,” he said.

In 2019, he did an interview with Pan Macmillan South Africa to promote his book, Born Freeloaders. The book tells the story of a crew of young friends born on the cusp of democracy who navigates a life of drinking, wild parties and other recklessness.

He said that he tried to play around with a lot of the popular conversations that were being directed at the “country’s guinea pig generation” with this book. At the time it was described as ‘controversial‘.

 Engaging in ‘controversial dialogues

In 2020, TimesLive asked him about his work being considered ‘controversial’ – something he did not necessarily shy away from.

“I’ve never been put under pressure to censor or asked to change my style, which is cool,” he said. “I guess in the times of social media ‘witch hunting’ (shout out Donald Trump), most people shy away from topics of controversy. I used to run towards it, but now I know fighting on the internet is essentially a snake eating itself and enjoying the taste.”

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