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British poet and political activist Benjamin Zephaniah dies aged 65

07 December 2023, 13:04 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

British poet and political activist Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65 following a short battle with a brain tumour.

A statement posted to his Instagram page revealed that he was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago, and sadly succumbed to the illness.

““It is with great sadness and regret that we announce the death of our beloved Husband, Son, and Brother in the early hours of this morning...Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed,” the post read. “We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news. Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so much. Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy”.

As reported by The Guardian, "his poetry often directly responded to historical and current events. His second poetry collection, The Dread Affair, was published in 1985 and featured a number of poems attacking the British legal system. In 1990, he published Rasta Time in Palestine, containing poetry and travelogue based on a visit to the Palestinian occupied territories. In 1999, he wrote What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us as part of the campaign to find the murderers of the 18-year-old south-east Londoner."

Zephaniah famously rejected rejected his OBE in 2003, due to the association of the British Empire and its history of slavery. “Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought,” he wrote in the Guardian. “I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire’; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.”

He expanded on this on The Big Narstie Show in 2020. "The OBE means 'Order of the British Empire'. MBE means 'Member of the British Empire'. I've been fighting against empire all my life, fighting against slavery and colonialism all my life. I've been writing to connect with people, not to impress governments and monarchy. So I could I then accept an honour that puts the word Empire on to my name? That would be hypocritical."

Five years ago Benjamin Zephaniah released his autobiography, The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah, to coincide with his 60th birthday.

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