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various (2010) Testimonials about Dennis Brutus Excerpts from institutions, individuals and media.  : 1-67.


World-renowned political organizer and one of Africa’s most celebrated
poets, Dennis Brutus, died early on December 26 in Cape Town, in his sleep, aged 85.

Even in his last days, Brutus was fully engaged, advocating social protest
against those responsible for climate change, and promoting reparations to
black South Africans from corporations that benefited from apartheid. He was a leading plaintiff in the Alien Tort Claims Act case against major firms that is now making progress in the US court system.

Brutus was born in Harare in 1924, but his South African parents soon moved
to Port Elizabeth where he attended Paterson and Schauderville High Schools. He entered Fort Hare University on a full scholarship in 1940, graduating with a distinction in English and a second major in Psychology. Further studies in law at the University of the Witwatersrand were cut short by imprisonment for anti-apartheid activism.

Brutus’ political activity initially included extensive journalistic
reporting, organising with the Teachers’ League and Congress movement, and leading the new South African Sports Association as an alternative to white sports bodies. After his banning in 1961 under the Suppression of Communism Act, he fled to Mozambique but was captured and deported to Johannesburg.

There, in 1963, Brutus was shot in the back while attempting to escape police custody. Memorably, it was in front of Anglo American Corporation headquarters that he nearly died while awaiting an ambulance reserved for blacks.

While recovering, he was held in the Johannesburg Fort Prison cell which
more than a half-century earlier housed Mahatma Gandhi. Brutus was
transferred to Robben Island where he was jailed in the cell next to Nelson
Mandela, and in 1964-65 wrote the collections Sirens Knuckles Boots and
Letters to Martha, two of the richest poetic expressions of political

Subsequently forced into exile, Brutus resumed simultaneous careers as a
poet and anti-apartheid campaigner in London, and while working for the
International Defense and Aid Fund, was instrumental in achieving the
apartheid regime’s expulsion from the 1968 Mexican Olympics and then in 1970 from the Olympic movement.

Upon moving to the US in 1977, Brutus served as a professor of literature
and African studies at Northwestern (Chicago) and Pittsburgh, and defeated
high-profile efforts by the Reagan Administration to deport him during the
early 1980s. He wrote numerous poems, ninety of which will be published
posthumously next year by Worcester State University, and he helped organize major African writers organizations with his colleagues Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.

Following the political transition in South Africa, Brutus resumed
activities with grassroots social movements in his home country. In the late
1990s he also became a pivotal figure in the global justice movement and a
featured speaker each year at the World Social Forum, as well as at protests
against the World Trade Organisation, G8, Bretton Woods Institutions and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Brutus continued to serve in the anti-racism, reparations and economic
justice movements as a leading strategist until his death, calling in August
for the ‘Seattling’ of the recent Copenhagen summit because sufficient
greenhouse gas emissions cuts and North-South ‘climate debt’ payments were not on the agenda.

His final academic appointment was as Honorary Professor at the University
of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, and for that university’s press
and Haymarket Press, he published the autobiographical Poetry and Protest in 2006.

Amongst numerous recent accolades were the US War Resisters League peace award in September, two Doctor of Literature degrees conferred at Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in April - following six other honorary doctorates – and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the South African government Department of Arts and Culture in 2008.

Brutus was also awarded membership in the South African Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, but rejected it on grounds that the institution had not confronted the country’s racist history. He also won the Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes awards.

The memory of Dennis Brutus will remain everywhere there is struggle against injustice. Uniquely courageous, consistent and principled, Brutus bridged the global and local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red and green. He was an emblem of solidarity with all those peoples oppressed and environments wrecked by the power of capital and state elites – hence some in the African National Congress government labeled him ‘ultraleft’. But given his role as a world-class poet, Brutus showed that social justice advocates can have both bread and roses.

Brutus’s poetry collections are:
  • Sirens Knuckles and Boots (Mbari Productions, Ibaden, Nigeria and
    Northwestern University Press, Evanston Illinois, 1963).

  • Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (Heinemann,
    Oxford, 1968).

  • Poems from Algiers (African and Afro-American Studies and Research
    Institute, Austin, Texas, 1970).

  • A Simple Lust (Heinemann, Oxford, 1973).

  • China Poems (African and Afro-American Studies and Research Centre,
    Austin, Texas, 1975).

  • Strains (Troubador Press, Del Valle, Texas).

  • Stubborn Hope (Three Continents Press, Washington, DC and Heinemann,
    Oxford, 1978).

  • Salutes and Censures (Fourth Dimension, Enugu, Nigeria, 1982).

  • Airs and Tributes (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey, 1989).

  • Still the Sirens (Pennywhistle Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1993).

  • Remembering Soweto, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey, 2004).

  • Leafdrift, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey,

  • Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader, ed. Aisha Kareem and Lee
    Sustar (Haymarket Books, Chicago and University of KwaZulu-Natal Press,
    Pietermaritzburg, 2006).

  • He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and Dolly, eight
    children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in Hong Kong,
    England, the USA and Cape Town.
    (By Patrick Bond)

    Statement from the Brutus Family on the passing of Professor Dennis Brutus

    Professor Dennis Brutus died quietly in his sleep on the 26th December,
    earlier this morning. He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and
    Dolly, eight children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in
    Hong Kong, England, the USA and Cape Town.

    Dennis lived his life as so many would wish to, in service to the causes of justice, peace, freedom and the protection of the planet. He remained positive about the future, believing that popular movements will achieve their aims.

    Dennis’ poetry, particularly of his prison experiences on Robben Island,
    has been taught in schools around the world. He was modest about his work,
    always trying to improve on his drafts.

    His creativity crossed into other areas of his life, he used poetry to
    mobilize, to inspire others to action, also to bring joy.

    We wish to thank all the doctors, nurses and staff who provided excellent
    care for Dennis in his final months, and to also thank St Luke’s Hospice for
    their assistance.

    There will be a private cremation within a few days and arrangements for a
    thanks giving service will be made known in early January.

    Dennis Vincent Brutus, 1924-2009

    Democracy Now on Dennis Brutus

    Renowned South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus died in his sleep on December 26th in Cape Town. He was 85 years old.

    Brutus was a leading opponent of the apartheid state. He helped secure South Africa’s suspension from the Olympics, eventually forcing the country to be expelled from the Games in 1970. Arrested in 1963, he was sentenced to eighteen months of hard labor on Robben Island, off Cape Town, with Nelson Mandela.

    “In his last days, Brutus was fully engaged, advocating social protest against those responsible for climate change, and promoting reparations to black South Africans from corporations that benefited from apartheid,” writes Patrick Bond. “The memory of Dennis Brutus will remain everywhere there is struggle against injustice. Uniquely courageous, consistent and principled, Brutus bridged the global and local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red and green…Given his role as a world-class poet, Brutus showed that social justice advocates can have both bread and roses.”

    Dennis Brutus was a frequent guest on Democracy Now! over the years. A collection of his appearances is listed below.

    Poet, anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus dies
    Associated Press

    South African poet and former political prisoner Dennis Brutus has died. He was 85.

    Brutus' publisher, Chicago-based Haymarket Books, says the writer died in his sleep at his home in Cape Town on Saturday.

    Brutus was an anti-apartheid activist who was jailed at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in the mid-1960s. His activism led Olympic officials to ban South Africa from competition from 1964 until apartheid ended nearly 30 years later.

    Exiled from South Africa in 1966, Brutus later moved to the United States and taught literature and African studies at Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh.

    Over the years, he wrote more than a dozen collections of poetry, including two while imprisoned. He is survived by a wife, eight children and many other relatives.
    ©2009 The Associated Press

    Sport struggle hero dies
    Rafiq Wagiet

    Proffessor Dennis Brutus, one of South Africa’s most influential activists against the apartheid government, has died at the age of 85.

    Brutus worked to get South Africa suspended from international sport participation, which eventually lead to South Africa’s expulsion from the Olympic Games in 1970.

    Brutus spent 18 months on Robben Island after he was arrested in 1963 for his stance against apartheid.

    President of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee Gideon Sam said Brutus was a stalwart in liberating South African sport from the grips of apartheid.

    “He’s been a stalwart of spot in this country and abroad, making sure South Africa was isolated until we had proper freedom.”
    (Edited by Danya Philander)

    Dennis Brutus, poet and activist, dies at 85
    Vivian Nereim, Pittsburgh Post-GazetteSaturday 26 December 2009

    Dennis Brutus, the prolific poet and impassioned activist who was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela in South Africa, died at his home in Cape Town this morning after battling prostate cancer. He was 85.

    Dr. Brutus was exiled from his native South Africa for more than 20 years, and he successfully lobbied to ban the apartheid regime's all-white Olympic teams from the games.

    During his exile, he traveled around the world, spending many years in Pittsburgh. At the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a professor, he directed the Black Studies department, now the Africana Studies department. He was beloved by many local writers and activists, who today recalled his gentle nature and devotion to human rights, whether in words or action.

    Patrick Bond, director of the Center for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where Dr. Brutus was an honorary professor in his last years, said Dr. Brutus was sharp and engaged through his final days of life.

    Despite his illness, he was still sending letters to newspaper editors this month about the international climate conference in Copenhagen. He was particularly passionate about environmental issues recently, said Mr. Bond, and he fervently wished he could be in Copenhagen himself.

    Pitt Department of History Chair Marcus Rediker, who knew Dr. Brutus well, said he was awed by Dr. Brutus's tirelessness.

    I called him a world-wide mover and shaker, he said. You could never be sure at any given moment which continent Dennis was on, what particular cause of justice he was taking up.

    Arrangements for services remain unclear today.

    Sokari Ekine Terrible news has just reached my ears: the lion has died. The lion sleeps tonight. Professor Brutus fought the apartheid regime and helped bring down some of its structures, almost single handedly.

    He was a poet whose poems he wrote while in prison on Robben island are mainly why this blog exists, and why I write poetry. Letters to Martha, the book is called. He was my hero.

    What do you begin to say when the pillar falls? Do you cry for the empty future (Brutus’s “the weight of the approaching days”) or celebrate his life? Dilemma. I have celebrated his life on this blog and privately in the rooms of my heart. I choose to mourn, now. So, what are we gonna do?

    Who’s gonna step into his shoes? What will them think, now that he is dead? That we’re weaker? That they’re stronger? We must mourn no matter what. He will live through his action and through his words, none of which spoke louder than the other.

    Let us mourn, then, this man who has done so much for you and for me, and so little for himself. Let us mourn because orphans mourn, and let us hope that because of this departure, we will soon move from mourning to morning.

    Their Behaviour
    Their guilt
    is not so very different from ours:
    —who has not joyed in the arbitrary exercise of
    or grasped for himself what might have been
    and who has not used superior force in the
    moment when he could,
    (and who of us has not been tempted to these
    so, in their guilt,
    the bare ferocity of teeth,
    chest-thumping challenge and defiance,
    the deafening clamor of their prayers
    to a deity made in the image of their prejudice
    which drowns the voice of conscience,
    is mirrored our predicament
    but on a social, massive, organized scale
    which magnifies enormously
    as the private dehabille of love
    becomes obscene in orgies.

    Split This Rock on Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009
    26 December 2009

    Split This Rock mourns the passing and celebrates the life of Dennis Brutus, who shared his prophetic vision with us as a featured poet at Split This Rock's inaugural festival in March 2008. Our thoughts are with his family and with the broader human family Dennis cared about so much. We are all lucky to have been graced with his fierce, uncompromising love.

    Dan MoshenburgFor many, young, old and anywhere in between, Dennis has been a presence, a gentle and insistent education into the beauty of the persistent struggle for social justice and into the need to remember that social justice emanates from and builds on love, laughter, beauty, understanding, sharing, humanity.

    Dennis first came to the attention of many with his collection Letters to Martha & other Poems from a South African Prison. Here’s one of those poems, “Letter 18”, dated 20 December 1965. Hamba kahle dear greatly daring poet hamba kahle sala kahle.
    I remember rising one night
    after midnight
    and moving
    through an impulse of loneliness
    to try and find the stars.

    And through the haze
    the battens of fluorescents made
    I saw pinpricks of white
    I thought were stars.

    Greatly daring
    I thrust my arm through the bars
    and easing the switch in the corridor
    plunged my cell in darkness

    I scampered to the window
    and saw the splashes of light
    where the stars flowered.

    But through my delight
    thudded the anxious boots
    and a warning barked
    from the machine gun post
    on the catwalk.

    And it is the brusque inquiry
    and threat
    that I remember of that night
    rather than the stars.
    20 December 1965

    The Poet signs a higher note

    My condolences on the passing of the great comrade who so inspired us with his pen and commitment.

    Gillian Hart My deepest condolences on Dennis's passing. One of the people for whom Dennis was very important is Alfred Duma, who was with him on Robben Island. Baba Duma often speaks of Dennis very fondly, remembering in particular how Dennis was very important in enabling illiterate people like himself to learn to read on the Island. At the end of 1998, a year in which both my parents died, I recall sitting in Mr Duma's house in Ezakheni township outside Ladysmith, and was gripped by a spasm of grief. Baba Duma took me by the hand, and explained that in the Zulu tradition one grieves when a young person dies - but when an old person who has lived a good, full life passes on, then one celebrates. Dennis gave so much to the world, and there is so much in his life to celebrate.

    Michael Yates I knew Dennis Brutus when he was at the University of Pittsburgh. A very fine, courageous, and gentle man. A friend of mine invited him to a class she was teaching at a prison in Pittsburgh. You have to go through a metal detector to get inside. Dennis had to go through about five times, each time removing some object he had forgotten about. I am sure the guards were irritated, but what could they do? If you knew Dennis and his manner, I am sure you can appreciate the humor and irony in the situation. Needless to say, he was a big hit with the men in the class.

    Dennis Brutus had that rare quality of making you feel important in what you were doing even as he was humble about his own profound contributions to the struggle for human liberation.

    Muna Lakhani I am sorry to announce that a giant amongst us has passed on... Dennis Brutus departed this planet about 2 hours ago..... all who know him, will miss his integrity, clarity of thought and infinite wisdom.... those who do not, will feel the void he has left behind... hamba kahle...

    Khadija Sharife all my favorites poems and poets have his voice - he would read for me my favorites, even when he was really tired...

    Tony Brutus: (speech at Dennis' CT memorial today)

    How do you do? Aangenaame kennis, my naam is Dennis. A phrase with a
    ring to it, and a sense to it—

    Dennis was ready to meet the world, polite, respectful and clear minded.
    In the living room of our Shell Street home in Port Elizabeth, he would
    greet neighbours and fellows from near and far. And in fact, the names
    of Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, MN Pather, Lutchie Lutchman, Luthuli,
    were household names for me growing up. An engaging man.

    According to his sisters, Dennis was an extrovert and very early on, it
    is clear, he was a man with a mission, ready to take on the world.

    The measure of the man can be found in the treasure of rich ideas,
    lyrical poetry and breadth of achievement over many walks of life. He
    took pleasure of mooching down to the Port Elizabeth docks to greet and
    befriend foreign sailors arriving from far and stranded without a
    knowledge of the town – and he was rewarded with a unique and broad
    collection of jazz records and wonderful East German cameras. He could
    tell you a story about that.

    An aside – when I was turning twelve or thirteen, Dennis decided it was
    time for us to have a father and son discussion on the hormonal changes
    I would be going through. He said I suppose you will start to find girls
    more exciting and you will want to know how it happens when you want to
    be physical with each other. Just ask me anything. The trouble was that
    we were sitting on a Red London Bus in Finchley in rush hour and
    everyone was turning to stare at me. He might as well have started to
    read a poem out loud, and of course I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t with
    him. When you’re around Londoners, you feel this pressure to fit in and
    conform with them.

    The legacy of a legend is the inspiration he provided. People from many
    different walks of life encountered him when they were searching for
    focus and purpose – Dennis was a intellectual guide, a pilot light
    assisting other souls with unfailing insight. Arthur Nortje, Vaughn
    Fayle, Charles Abrahams are among immensely talented young people who
    have with his nudging, achieved magnificent accomplishments.

    The power of his story telling and his prophetic vision surrounds us at
    the turn of the year: this year’s big event – a Fifa football spectacle
    the likes of which the continent has never seen – the story Dennis tells
    has this twist: will the trick of the trickle down effect wash away or
    divided history? Or will it be a washout of elite corporate entertaining
    leaving the local people complaining about empty promises, empty
    stadiums, stars in the eyes and nothing in their pockets: we’ll see just
    now if Dennis gut feeling was unfailing.

    Leaving home going out to the world he said to his Mum: “ they won’t
    like what I’m going to do…nevertheless I have to do what is right” He
    could have meant his family, he certainly meant his compatriots.

    By example that soul force will defeat police cordons: pen in hand,
    clear of his conviction, he use his charm and courtesy, and ability to
    spin a story as a formidable weapon.

    Anyone of my brothers or sisters can tell you, that at St Patrick’s
    Catholic Church in Sydenam there were only white alter boy. Dennis
    changed that. Usually on the way there on a Sunday, we walked through a
    park where the slides and swings had the all too familiar “For whites
    only sign”. Go ahead and play on them, he used to say. And when people
    or the park attendants approached us to object – he calmly, without
    anger, stood up to them and defied them. It wasn’t fun, and the lesson
    Dennis had for us was that you can make change: fly as straight as an
    arrow to your goal.

    There is too much of an attitude of “what can I get? Rather than how can
    I serve?” these days. Back in Port Elizabeth at the time Americans were
    in the awakenings and uprisings of the Civil Rights movement, a letter
    would arrive in the post from Robert Kennedy, at the time Attorney
    General or some such, replying to a persistent and principled enquiry
    from Dennis.

    And that links to now, look at what we have now – you should know our
    Minister of Justice Mr. Jeff Radebe has, on behalf of the South African
    government shifted their position to support the case for reparations –
    and the case is moving forward, with Dennis as a litigant: way ahead of
    everyone, but he told, no intention of personal gain.

    About unanswered questions. In the last World Cup final, what did the
    player who incited Zinadine Zidane actually say? And all sorts of
    possibilities have been suggested. What could I say to sum up the
    meaning of my father, what would he actually say to advise me? And it is
    this, don’t fear to tell the truth about me. Lies are chains. I have
    looked for and stood for the truth.

    And this location, this slave lodge will have heard the shouts and
    shrieks of pain, the whip the lash and sjambok were used around this
    place and these spaces. People crowded and sick and dying for lack of
    dignity, the right to decency. We are the descendents of slaves, though
    I haven’t exactly traced the precise roots. Our ancestors rebelled, and
    Dennis would recall the uprisings that took place around the Cape
    against injustice and oppression, as they take place everywhere around
    the world.

    Dennis and the written word. Letters of protest to the governing elites,
    that plainly and simply demanded that people act according to their
    words and their constitutions. Brief updates of news or filtered, coded
    messages slipped under doors in prison cells on Robben Island where
    Dennis mooched along with a mop, washing the floors. Open letters to the
    editors of newspapers. Petitions to the courts: a rare and remarkable
    intelligence and gift of reading and writing to back up the singular
    purpose he had chosen: to live with integrity and to defy injustice and

    Dennis and meetings, an early memory of a rally – the names Chief Albert
    Luthuli, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki were always in the air; and the
    funerals of struggle activists: meetings and funerals were much the same

    We were not very much in touch with each other in recent years, but then
    that changed and it is a credit that Dennis could put aside the
    differences between us and say that he would spend some months with us
    as his candle started to flicker. Eighty five years is a decent span.

    Hamba Kahle Dennis!

    Beverly Bell: Small Tribute to the Giant Dennis Brutus

    Dennis… How does one pay tribute to Dennis Brutus? The man was sui
    generis. Capturing him even partially would take a short book or a very
    long poem. I hope someone attempts the feat, both because Dennis
    deserves it and because it will help spread the power of his life, work,
    and words.

    And spread Dennis’ life, work, and words must continue to do, for in
    them lie the essentials of a more just, humane, equitable, and
    environmentally sustainable world.

    The Dalai Lama is reported to have said, “Let your life be your
    message.” Dennis’ was. This is true in the humility and beauty with
    which he carried himself, the kindness with which he treated others, the
    strength of his convictions, the energy with which he worked for those
    convictions, and the wisdom and clarity of his words.

    I met Dennis when he was fighting for political asylum from the
    Apartheid regime in the early 80’s. Our collaboration began when he sat
    on the board of the Washington Office on Haiti where I served on the
    staff. Never mind that he could never attend the meetings due to his
    back‑breaking schedule; he always took the time to send beautiful notes
    of inspiration for the Haitian liberation struggle, written in his
    remarkable free‑hand calligraphy. How we treasured those notes! He later
    sat on the board of the Center for Economic Justice that I ran, and this
    time he showed up for most of the meetings. Though reaching the remote
    city of Albuquerque required many hours of travel, and though he often
    had meetings or presentations in other countries on the front and back
    ends, and though his participation was often for no more than a day,
    still he came… for Dennis was faithful to whatever he committed to. The
    same was true of the World Bank Boycott, of which we were two
    coordinators: Dennis appeared for most any workshop, presentation, or
    meeting we asked of him, raising high the flag with all his strength and

    He didn’t just show up in body, of course. He came with his most
    pressing passions and most politically urgent campaigns. He lobbied all
    to involve ourselves, to turn out, to unite our voice and strength, to
    do more than we were doing. The man was tireless and fearless, and
    gently urged us to be, too. I recall running a workshop on strategies to
    fight the World Bank in a church in Washington during a week of
    protests. Making a cameo appearance, Dennis asked for the floor and
    proceeded to make a long appeal for everyone to join him at another
    gathering on another topic, many months out, in another country. As he
    went on about whatever the topic of that gathering was, a young woman
    hissed at me that the speaker was off‑message and that I should cut him
    off. I tried to be polite while denying her request, but what I really
    wanted to say to her was, “Do you have any idea who is speaking? You
    should just feel honored. Just listen very carefully to what he has to say.”

    The schedule he kept was remarkable for anyone of any age or state of
    health. But I never heard him complain or make excuses. Dennis’ entire
    history was a testament to the idea that you do what needs to be done,
    you rise to the occasion. So on he plugged when he had surpassed 80,
    when his health had diminished, when his itinerary exhausted him, when
    his memory flagged. I ran into him at the World Social Forum in Mumbai
    in one of his final years when he was clearly weary of body and mind.
    After sharing a hug, he said, “I must go now because I have a meeting. I
    can’t remember with whom, or where it is, but I know I have one.” And
    off he went through the throngs, tenacity and a fierce commitment to
    obligation trumping all personal challenges.

    When we were lucky, Dennis had the time and inclination for a story. No
    matter how grand or quotidian the narrative, it was marked by his
    beautiful verbiage, exquisite oration, enlivened eyes, and ‑if a good
    story‑ delight, or ‑if one of injustice‑ calm. My favorite stories were
    of his and his comrades’ fierce fights against Apartheid. So much
    courage and creativity they bespoke. He found humor in unexpected
    places, and always understated the suffering. There was the tale of
    attempting to flee the guards as he was being transported from one
    prison to another, jumping out of the police car at a red light and
    setting off in a dash. “That was when I learned what a
    through‑and‑through wound was,” he said of the bullet which pierced his
    chest and went out his back. He told of lying on the ground bleeding to
    death, “in the shadow of the Anglo American Corporation, appropriately
    enough,” waiting for the ambulance. When a whites‑only ambulance arrived
    by mistake, he had to lie bleeding for another long while during which a
    second ambulance – this one for so‑called coloreds ‑ journeyed from the
    hospital. He told of his comrades’ breaking into the hospital to free
    him after the shooting, as he barely survived on life support, and of
    his stealthily writing on his hand, “Abort mission,” – knowing that he
    would die in the process. He told of being under house arrest with
    guards parked in front of his home around the clock, while he climbed
    out the side window to attend political meetings.

    During one of his narrations in my living room, I noticed that the
    self‑deprecating chortle that usually punctuated his stories had
    vanished. Dennis was softly crying. A tear ran down his nose and hung at
    the tip, where it remained throughout the rest of his tale of horror and
    brutality. Like Dennis’ life, the sadness or frustration it revealed did
    nothing to stop or quiet the truth‑telling in which he was engaged.

    It was easier to get a poem from him, whether he read it during a public
    presentation or shared it in a quiet moment. Whenever he had a new book,
    he carried copies around and freely gave them out, after adding a warm
    inscription in that lovely penmanship. Dennis was perhaps most full in
    his poems, merging the personal and the political, never denying the
    existence of tyranny but always bringing to it his breath of hope that
    the world can be different – if we organize to make it so.

    It is perhaps easiest to remember Dennis the fighter, but I was always
    equally impressed with Dennis the human being. No matter how ugly the
    political fight, Dennis’ anger remained streamlined on the wrongful
    systems and policies, not wasted on the individuals behind them. I do
    not mean to imply that he was ever soft or compromising. But he kept his
    eyes on the prize – the principles at play ‑ and in so doing, brought us
    one step closer to the world we seek.

    The same was true with his approach to the movement. When comrades and
    allies around him made errors, his response always shone like a beacon
    above the oft‑divisive internal politics. He seemed to know better than
    most that we are all limited and imperfect, and that the benefit of the
    doubt or the possibility of change is a grace we need for humanity to
    continue to evolve. Or perhaps it was simpler: perhaps he knew that he
    was no one’s judge. Or maybe he just knew that the world was harsh
    enough already, as he expressed in his poem “Somehow We Survive”:

    All our land is scarred with terror
    rendered unlovely and unlovable
    sundered are we and all our passionate surrender
    but somehow
    tenderness survives.

    Dennis wrote his own simple obituary in 2009 as he discussed the
    Sharpeville massacre. “I was committed to the struggle and I would if
    necessary die in the cause of liberation: ‘Freedom or death.’ It was a
    very simple resolve.” He did indeed die in the cause of liberation –
    though fortunately not a violent or premature death. Every single thing
    that Dennis did was in the cause of liberation.

    I would say I will miss Dennis, but he's not going anywhere: he is in
    all of us who care profoundly for humanity and justice.

    ‑ Beverly Bell, Other Worlds, New Orleans, January 4, 2010

    Deena Padayachee:

    Dear Friends of the Literary Network, my family and those who cared for

    The year ended on a sad note with the passing of our dear, beloved,
    greatly respected Dennis Brutus.

    I thnk that the greatest accolade I can pay him is to say that he was a
    human being who used his incredible intellect for the greater good of
    all humanity. And he paid the price for that lonely path. In some senses
    of the term he was a martyr but he never carried himself with a sense of
    victimhood or martyrdom. He consciously immolated his life in order to
    help liberate the world from tyranny, racism and oppression. God was
    good to allow him to be on Earth.

    He was a sentient human being of impeccable integrity and incredible
    nobility. He was at home with the 'simplest' among us but he could cross
    swords, most deftly, with the most assinine among the arrogant academics
    and the many mean spirited ogres who dwell among us. His manner, the way
    in which he carried himself, reminded me of aristocracy ‑ without the
    arrogance which usually accompanies that state of being. He was as
    naturally noble and charming as breathing is for the rest of us. His
    charm and soft manner of expression was always at odds with the way the
    Apartheid media had reported about him with great ire ‑ the way they
    reported about his activities which he conducted on behalf of us all.

    It goes without saying that he was not for sale. If you were his comrade
    you counted yourself truly blessed. If he took your assistance, then you
    counted yourself fortunate, because he never asked for it. He was the
    essence of good manners.

    Cast in the role of the thorn child, it was inevitable that he would
    have to oppose the gangsterism of fascism.

    His resistance to tyranny was never done with the uncouth, wild
    aggression of the immature. His was a resistance that was always
    conducted with a Gandhian dignity and with a great deal of respect.
    Those who he resisted must have gone away feeling, somewhere within
    themselves, a great deal of shame.

    In his everyday conversation Dennis was about subtlety ‑ never for him
    the rudeness and tactlessness of direct confrontation. When he
    criticised individuals it was always done with careful consideration for
    the other. Poetry is about many things including emotion; yet, somehow,
    Dennis always seemed to be in control of his emotions.

    Yes, we celebrate his life now, now that he is taken from us. But many
    of us celebrated Dennis Brutus while he was still alive. That memory
    will stay with us for ever. He allowed his light to illuminate our
    lives. Most of the people on this List learned a great deal from dear
    Dennis. We are deeply grateful, Dennis.

    While I was fortunate enough to associate with Dennis, he hardly ever
    spoke about the many organisations he worked with or the many very great
    human beings who respected him so much. He was the very personification
    of humility.

    In a sense the depth of his humanity is reflected in the quality of his
    great comrades, Claudia Martinezmullen and Professor Patrick Bond who
    were the greatest friends any person could ever hope to have.

    Dennis Brutus is immortal. He represents the best that is in Homo Sapiens.

    Deena Padayachee

    Trevor Ngwane: The soldier did all that he had to do and more, may he
    rest in peace.

    Ronnie Kasrils: He fought fiercely for freedom, equality and justice,
    and apart from many admirable qualities was one of this country's
    outstanding. He lived a life of fulfillment and will be remembered for
    his sterling qualities and the courageous role he played to set our
    country free.

    Hopewell Gumbo: I met you in the last days. Your frail voice, from the
    wheel chair was a touching inspiration, a sign of courage, determination
    and ammunition for those you were about to leave, all who had gathered
    for nothing but the road to an alternative world. With my eyes closed I
    can see you so fresh in the long red sea march from Alex to Sandton,
    taking every opportunity to inspire with slogans that told us that there
    was no other way than that of struggle. For freedom was you call and we
    will carry the torch as you constantly reminded. You departure is the
    vindication that struggle is our birthright and we will forever will to
    set you soul free.

    Kiama Kaara: He inspired us all who met him and we are resolute that he
    died fighting Capitalism through and through. We all will endeavour to
    live his spirit.

    Adelaine and Walter Hain: He was an indefatig‑able campaigner against
    the Apartheid regime, never stinting himself in his fight, particularly
    as we knew, on the Sports Apartheid front. He will be always remembered
    and missed by his fellow campaigners all over the world.

    Peter Hain: in his leadership of SAN‑ROC, he was massively instrumental
    in isolating white South Africa from all international sports. Dennis,
    we salute you as one of our freedom warriors

    Ann Wolfe: I myself met Dennis only on two important occasions, but I
    know how much he meant to my late husband, John Harris. Dennis and
    SANROC, were synonymous to John. The occasion, on which I got to know
    Dennis a little was when I drove with him and John to Swaziland, hoping
    that Dennis could escape. We were in John's parents' VW Kombi‑camper,
    and, on crossing the border, Dennis hid in one of the under seat
    cupboards, so squashed that he could barely breathe I think.

    John Minto: Dennis visited New Zealand in 1976 at the height of the
    campaign to stop that year's planned All Black tour to South Africa. The
    impact of his visit was profound. He was inspiring with his message and
    infectious in his energy and passion for justice. That tour went ahead
    in the face of the Soweto uprising and Dennis was at the centre of the
    Montreal Olympic boycott by 29 African and Caribbean countries later
    that year after the Olympic movement failed to censure New Zealand.

    His impact on the international solidarity movement was immense which
    others have attested more adequately than I can.

    We admired his principled rejection of entry to the South African Sports
    Hall of Fame two year back.

    I finally met Dennis in April last year in Durban and felt greatly
    privileged to spend a morning with him. I reminded him of one of his
    poems called For a Dead African which had a big impact on me as a young
    activist back in the 1970s. He wrote it after John Nangoza Jebe was
    killed by the South African police and the final lines are these:

    “Yet when the role of those who died to free our land is called, without
    surprise these nameless unarmed ones will stand beside the warriors who
    secure the final prize.”

    The land is not free, the final prize is still beyond reach but Dennis
    will stand tall with a name well known alongside those who achieve it.
    Haere ra e hoa ‑ haere, haere, haere.

    Gustavo Castro: This admirable man's life was so notable to me: his
    life, his words, his person. Dennis hasn't left, he remains with us
    forever. Dennis may rest in peace, for surely he knows that the rest of
    us will continue to uphold the struggle.

    Anne Mayher: Thanks, Dennis for taking the time to pass on your
    knowledge and inspiration to so many of us. Your work lives on as we all
    do our little part to push for a more just system. I think I felt the
    earth shake a bit the day you passed to the next life, but your spirit
    is present everywhere I go ‑ you have encouraged us to have the courage
    to speak the truth against the most powerful corporations and most
    powerful governments! You live on, Dennis! The deepest gratitude to you
    for sharing so much of yourself with us.

    Steven Mentor: When I came to Stanford University in 1976 I thought I
    was going to study Renaissance rhetoric, or perhaps Modernism and the
    experimental novel. Instead I found the anti‑apartheid movement, a group
    called SCRIP, some truly amazing organizers young and not so young. When
    Dennis Brutus died, my friend Chris Gray ‑ one of those amazing
    organizers ‑ sent me a message that brought those days of protest, of
    strategy, of reading and writing and learning, back. And I reread
    Dennis's obit, read a good homage to him in Foreign Policy in Focus by
    Martin Espada, and a fine essay by Patrick Bond titled What we learned
    from Dennis Brutus' troubadour politics. And I'm struck by something. I
    did study the renaissance at Stanford: the renaissance of a certain kind
    of activism, linked around the world and intimately linked by friendship
    and a feeling of reclaiming our lives from the varius isms and the
    poverty of dominant cultural practices. And I rediscovered the
    troubadours, the modern ones like Dennis, and the older European ones
    whose vision of a world not simply dominated by Mars but also inhabited
    by Venus, inhabited as well by flights of imagination tied to a new/old
    way of living freely and joyously on this earth. So Dennis, wherever you
    are. I'm raising this cup to you, and vowing to bring more troubadour
    into my own life, more social justice into my own actions, and more hell
    raising into the belly of this beast we must, and will, slow down and
    eventually tame, if we are to survive as a species, and laugh to tell
    the tale.

    Mitchel Cohen: My interviews with South African legendary poet and
    activist, Dennis Brutus, who died last week at 85, will air on Steal
    This Radio Tuesday night (tonight) at 9 pm (NY Time) and repeat on
    Friday at 11 a.m. (NY Time) on (listen live!). It will
    be podcast 24/7 after that, in a few weeks. You can hear this anywhere
    in the world over the internet at, not on regular

    Africa Action and Jubilee USA: Many Mourn the Loss of Artist & Activist Dennis Brutus.

    World‑renowned political organizer and one of Africa's
    most celebrated poets, Dennis Brutus, died early on December 26 in Cape
    Town, in his sleep, aged 85... Jubilee USA Network and friends mourn
    the loss of a great friend, artist, and activist. We had the honor of
    working with Dennis for many years. In 2008, Dennis discussed his
    perspective for Jubilee on the role of the U.S. Treasury Secretary and
    what should top the agenda of the new Treasury Secretary. Below are
    highlights from Jubilee Network Council member Africa Action’s
    meaningful statement: Sunday, December 27, 2009 (Washington, DC) –
    Dennis Brutus, renowned South African poet, educator, and activist, died
    at age 85 early Saturday morning, December 26th. He is survived by his
    wife May, his sisters Helen and Dolly, eight children, nine
    grandchildren and four great‑grandchildren in Hong Kong, England, the
    USA and Cape Town. Dennis Brutus was born to South African parents in
    what is now Zimbabwe and was educated in South Africa. His outspoken
    activism against racism and apartheid during the 1950s and 1960s
    resulted in the banning of South Africa from the Olympics and his
    subsequent arrest in 1963. He was imprisoned for 18 months on Robben
    Island, serving time with Nelson Mandela, and then banned from his
    studies, his politics, and his teachings. Dennis left South Africa in
    1966 for England, and subsequently taught at various institutions
    throughout the United States. In 1966 Dennis had just been released from
    the Robben Island prison in South Africa and went on tour in the U.S.
    for Africa Action's predecessor organization, the American Committee on
    Africa. The organization's executive director, Jennifer Davis, recalls
    that he used to wander around her apartment in the middle of the night,
    muttering poetry; her kids were fascinated by him. He later settled in
    the United States and spearheaded work on the international sports
    boycott. His poetry was banned in South Africa for years, though he
    himself was allowed to revisit the country beginning in 1990. Adding to
    his six other honorary doctorates, this year Denis was presented with
    the U.S. War Resisters League peace award in September, and two Doctor
    of Literature degrees bestowed at Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan
    University in April. He was also the first non‑African American to
    receive the Langston Hughes Award and the first Paul Robeson Award in
    1989 for artistic excellence, political consciousness and integrity.
    In 2008, Denis was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the South
    African government Department of Arts and Culture. Denis spoke around
    the world on the current injustices of the international financial
    institutions and their policies in the Global South.

    University of KwaZulu‑Natal Press:
    The University of KwaZulu‑Natal Press is proud to have been associated
    with, and to have published an edited collection of work by and on
    Dennis Brutus. We are saddened by and mourn his death, but we also
    celebrate a life that remained revolutionary right to the end.

    ‘… when I came to adulthood
    I challenged myself to
    To admission and action’

    These are the closing lines of a 2002 poem by Dennis Brutus. As we look
    back on his life and writing, let us too be challenged to confront,
    admit to and act on those struggles that we face us today.

    Remembering Dennis Brutus
    Beloved poet and anti‑apartheid activist Dennis Brutus passed away on
    December 26, 2009. Here is one activist's recollections of Dennis which
    reflects his vibrant contributions to art and politics even into his 80s.
    Steve Bloom (Socialist Webzine) 4 January 2010

    December 2009 ‑ Early in this decade, when he was a professor in the
    Black Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh, Dennis Brutus
    and I were attending the same political conference in that city. We had
    never met. I approached him, somewhat hesitantly, to share a poem I had
    written referencing the struggle in South Africa. He read it
    immediately, and eagerly. Then, to my surprise, he began a conversation
    as if we were long‑time comrades and collaborators.

    That, in my experience, was Dennis Brutus summed up: a man who had
    achieved greatness by any ordinary standard. But the esteem in which he
    was held by others seemed unimportant to him. He felt, and acted, like
    an ordinary human being simply doing what needs to be done. He treated
    others, even strangers, as if that were true as well.

    Over the next few years, every time our paths crossed—mostly on his
    frequent visits to New York City—Dennis would ask me what poetry event
    was being organized that he might participate in. It was, in part, as a
    result of his urging that I organized the very first “Activist Poets’
    Roundtable” at the US Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007. He also helped
    launch the Roundtable in New York City in March 2008, after the annual
    “Left Forum” where Dennis appeared on several panels.

    It was at this time that I really got to know him well. He had injured
    his foot, somehow, on the eve of the Left Forum and was having
    difficulty walking. I spent that weekend driving him back and forth
    between his hotel and the conference site, also making sure he had the
    help he needed getting around at the conference itself (and in his
    hotel). Then, when his foot did not improve, he accepted an offer of a
    place to stay for a few days in Brooklyn, where he wouldn’t have to
    manage on his own.

    He and I spent a lot of time together during those few days, in
    particular waiting for medical attention at the Kings County Hospital
    emergency room. And he told me stories about his life in the struggle
    against Apartheid. I will never forget the chuckle in his voice as he
    talked about the time he was shot in the back while attempting to escape
    from the police. He could laugh, too, about the absurdity of breaking
    rocks at Robben Island prison, the lengths to which the Apartheid regime
    had gone to suppress dissent. And yet it was all for naught (the source,
    I assume, of his mirth). The regime could not survive, no matter what
    brutal measures it resorted to. The people of South Africa were too strong.

    During this entire time, as his foot at first got worse then gradually
    began to feel better, the biggest concern he expressed to me was that he
    shouldn’t become too much of a burden.

    In that same month we drove together to Washington, DC, for the first
    “Split This Rock” poetry festival. Dennis found it impossible to attend
    such an event without making it an opportunity for a little political
    organizing. He decided, on the way down, that we should use the festival
    as the occasion for a declaration of poets calling for peace and social
    justice in the world. And so an “Appeal to Poets, Writers, and All
    Creative Artists” from the festival, for actions in March 2009 which
    would “Speak Art to Power,” was born. In the end it was signed by a
    majority of those in attendance at the festival.

    The overwhelming majority of young activists in the struggle for a
    better world believe that they are committed for life. Very few,
    however, actually fulfill this promise which they make to themselves.
    How many who were Dennis Brutus’s comrades in the anti‑Apartheid
    struggle, for example, ended up compromising their commitment to human
    liberation once the overthrow of Apartheid was achieved and power
    transferred into their hands? Dennis, however, remained committed to the
    poor and oppressed of South Africa and of the world until his final
    days. He was constitutionally incapable of doing otherwise.

    It has always struck me as one of the sad ironies of our existence that
    we can never, truly, count anyone in the ranks of the very special few
    who fulfill their youthful pledge—to themselves and to their own
    humanity—until they are no longer with us. Dennis fulfilled his pledge.
    He is no longer with us. The world will miss him.

    I will miss him, too.‑dennis‑brutus.html

    A near literal run‑in with a hero of battle against apartheid
    Mike Seate (Pittsburgh Tribune‑Review) 5 January 2010

    Just before the year ended, one of my heroes passed away. South African
    political activist Dennis Brutus, 85, died Dec. 26 in Cape Town. He
    lived the sort of life they make movies about.

    Brutus spent 16 months incarcerated with Nelson Mandela at the infamous
    Robben Island prison after surviving a gunshot wound while fleeing
    authorities. While in prison, he learned that the International Olympic
    Committee agreed in 1964 with his campaign to ban South Africa from the
    Tokyo games because of apartheid.

    With his trilling, studious voice, his long, white beard and fiery
    conviction, Brutus garnered enough international pressure to keep South
    Africa from Olympic competition until 1992. By then, he had emigrated to
    a temporary home in Pittsburgh.

    I learned about Brutus on an episode of CBS' 60 Minutes in the 1980s.
    He was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh while fighting the U.S.
    government's attempt to extradite him to South Africa because he lacked
    proper residence documents.

    A federal judge allowed Brutus to remain because he faced political
    persecution in South Africa.

    I always hoped I'd run into Brutus — and eventually, I did.

    About the time he was busy teaching in Pitt's Black Studies Department
    and organizing worldwide anti‑apartheid protests, I was a bouncer at a
    rough‑and‑tumble North Oakland bar called Chief's Cafe on North Craig

    The gig didn't pay much, and what little cash I earned went to maintain
    a rusty, smoke‑spewing Harley‑Davidson, which must have been
    manufactured during a week when the quality control supervisor was on a

    The thing spewed more oil than the Exxon Valdez and was so prone to
    mechanical failure, I began riding around with a copy of Ernest
    Hemingway's A Moveable Feast under the seat so I'd have something to
    read when the bike inevitably broke down.

    On a typical night, I'd take a half‑hour break and ride around Oakland
    for a few miles, welcoming a chance to escape the noise and cigarette
    smoke. Well, that and to look for co‑eds to impress. I spotted one —
    what she looked like is lost to the years — and instantly started
    twisting the rickety throttle in hopes the decibel level and cloud of
    smoke from my half‑bald rear tire would impress her.

    It did, I think, until gravity and physics took over, launching me and
    the motorcycle into a wild, sideways skid straight down the middle of
    Craig Street. When I managed to glance up from my death‑grip on the
    handlebars, I spotted a man standing directly in my path, his long white
    hair blowing in the breeze.

    It was Brutus, a man who had survived the worst that a violent, fascist
    government could throw his way, only to face death at the hands of a
    reckless, show‑off kid on a greasy motorcycle.

    Lucky for me — and history, for that matter — I regained control of the
    motorcycle a few feet short of denying the world one of its great
    political freedom fighters. Years later as a journalist, I interviewed
    Brutus and told him about our near‑fatal meeting. I apologized for my

    Brutus, a gentleman, managed to laugh at the memory. I'm sure it wasn't
    one he soon forgot.

    Epistle for Dennis Brutus
    Prince Shapiro

    March on soldier
    progression can not be kaput
    forever and a day
    your never‑aged spirit shall be extolled

    if parting ways means ascension
    go on
    perhaps bigotry tumbles down from the blue above
    go on
    glow like all conscientious stars up in the firmament

    if exodus orders descending graveward
    chauvinism in the deep below
    evil roots of capitalist bushes it fertilizes
    go on
    plunge cavernously and squeeze this insularity out
    out like a hot magma tourist attraction eruption
    to free the poor from capiterrorism horrors

    if resettlement constitutes lingering at legroom confinement
    in the grubby air that asphyxiates us to paucity
    go on
    be an incensation of full consciousness
    it’s a mandate comrade ‑ ‑ ‑ obey it
    long drawn up has been the memorandum
    go on
    from your dust mound
    liberators shall emerge
    from your ashes
    echoes of more fire
    shall be heard
    more fire
    until capitalism dies
    more fire
    until turncoats repent
    more fire
    until ubuntu take‑a‑stand
    more fire
    the end

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