[act-ma] FW: CCS Update, 26 Dec: Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009

John Berg johncberg at verizon.net
Sat Dec 26 16:30:10 PST 2009

Many here in Boston knew and worked with Dennis Brutus, so I want to pass on
the sad news that this great man has died. See Patrick Bond's note below.

Twitter: jcberg

-----Original Message-----
From: Patrick Bond [mailto:patricksouthafrica at gmail.com] On Behalf Of
Patrick Bond
Sent: Saturday, December 26, 2009 7:02 PM
To: Patrick Bond
Subject: CCS Update, 26 Dec: Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009

Hi dear comrades,

* This is the CCS Update I never wanted to write; it's that awful news 
we knew would arrive one day, that Dennis has left us. He accomplished 
so much in that full life of his, and yet was never satisfied. We know 
he had hoped to be in Copenhagen doing some seattlin', but from my chats 
with him the last few days, I could tell he knew we were on the right 
track, as the elites made such a huge mess and protesters became 
increasingly capable of articulating 'climate justice' in the spirit 
Dennis always encouraged in us.

* How do we celebrate this legacy, and build on it? There are so many 
campaigns he championed while at CCS that are still deserving of forward 
motion: climate, apartheid reparations, Palestine solidarity and Israeli 
Boycott Disinvestment Sanctions (remember how he went off to Lebanon in 
2006?), the Warwick small traders, local community groups, national 
social movements, Jubilee and climate debt, the World Cup (captured in 
the film Fahrenheit 2010), the Bush War Crimes Commission (and Bush 
shoe-out in January - pic), the Marx-in-Soho play, Durban Sings 
community audio, Zimbabwe and Tamil solidarity, Saro-Wiwa memorials, 
anti-pollution, World Bank bonds boycott, anti-Gear, anti-racism, 
anti-Nepad etc etc ... simply any cause under the sun (what have I left 

* So Dennis left us 24 hours ago, precisely, surrounded by loving 
relatives, and without pain. (From March-July, the pain was sometimes 
insufferable, so Tony and his wife Jenny Edge worked miracles by 
relieving the prostate cancer and treatment side-effects.) Dennis' final 
period with us in Durban, about six weeks ago when he opened the Crises 
and Commons conference, reminded all of us of his courage and 'stubborn 
hope' - and of the need not to mourn, too long, but to celebrate. If 
anyone would like to assist with memorials, in whatever city and 
setting, please let us know; events will be announced in coming days 
(e.g. a wake for the SF Bay Area tomorrow at 7:30pm). There will also be 
a website to post the photos Dennis loved so much (possibly his own 
Facebook site which Oliver maintained), and we'll try to have videos of 
Dennis online for posterity. Attached are just five from the last year.

* Mainly, keep struggling for justice, in honour of his politics, and 
keep expressing, in honour of Dennis' contribution to culture and 
inspiration. And keep enjoying every minute no matter how grim the enemy 
and the circumstances, as he always insisted.

PS, many more pics and URLs and poems and tributes are coming a few days 
from now, so do please let people know that it's the more the merrier, 
and we can put them all up on our website and others.


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

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 incarceration.

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 1971, 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)



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.


Associated Press

Poet, anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus dies

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.
C2009 The Associated Press



Sport struggle hero dies
Rafiq Wagiet | 3 Hours Ago

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
Saturday, December 26, 2009
By Vivian Nereim, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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.



FROM: 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.



Saturday, December 26, 2009
Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009

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.



FROM: Dan Moshenburg

For 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


Subject:     The Poet signs a higher note
Date:     Sat, 26 Dec 2009 22:33:04 +0100
From:     Nnimmo <nnimmo at eraction.org>

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


Date: Sat, 26 Dec 2009 11:46:15 -0800
From: Gillian Hart <hart at berkeley.edu>

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.


Subject:     [lbo-talk] Dennis Brutus
Date:     Sat, 26 Dec 2009 08:40:41 -0800
From:     MICHAEL YATES <mikedjyates at msn.com>

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 

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.


FROM: Muna Lakhani

muna wrote:

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...



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