Phumlani Pikoli, 1988—2021, RIP

Multidisciplinary artist and award-winning author Phumlani Pikoli has died, aged thirty-three.

According to a family statement, Pikoli was found dead at an apartment in Johannesburg on Sunday, 11 April 2021. The cause of his death has not yet been confirmed. Pikoli’s parents had travelled to Johannesburg from their home in Pretoria to check on him, after not being able to reach him by phone.

Xiphu said the family is ‘requesting privacy while they are going through this sad episode’.

Pikoli was born in Zimbabwe in 1988, the son of Girlie and Vusi Pikoli, who were exiled from South Africa during apartheid. Vusi Pikoli is a renowned advocate and the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority. The family moved back to South Africa when Pikoli was a child, and settled in Pretoria.

Pikoli’s writing has been described as ‘a generational ode’. In 2016, he self published a collection of short stories, The Fatuous State of Severity, which he had written ‘while recuperating from a depressive episode at a psychiatric clinic’. The success of the book led it to being picked up and republished by Pan Macmillan in 2018. His debut novel, Born Freeloaders, was released in 2019, and won the K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award. He debuted an exhibition entitled ‘Occupying A Fatuous State of Severity’, based on his book, at TMRW Gallery in Johannesburg in 2020.

Pan Macmillan released a statement saying:

‘Pan Macmillan is deeply saddened by the passing of Phumlani Pikoli, a bright light who is gone too soon.

‘We were privileged to publish two wonderfully original works with Phumlani, the short story collection The Fatuous State of Severity (2018) and the award-winning Born Freeloaders (2019).

‘We celebrate Phumlani’s considerable talent, and we extend our deepest condolences to the Pikoli family and to all who knew and loved him.’

A memorial service is planned for Wednesday and the funeral on Friday, with details to be confirmed.

Our condolences to Pikoli’s family and friends.

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