Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dennis Brutus Presente

Friends,

 

I send this out with sadness.  I had the great of meeting Dennis Brutus in Peace Park [Lafayette Park] in D.C. a number of years ago.  Kagiso, Max

 

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 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, 2005).

 

- 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)

 

2 comments:

Michelle said...

thought you & your readers might be interested in a new documentary, Fair Play, which tells the story of the anti-apartheid movement sports boycotts Brutus played such a key role in. Here’s a trailer:http://activevoice.net/haveyouheard_fairplay.html.

Michelle said...

thought you & your readers might be interested in a new documentary, Fair Play, which tells the story of the anti-apartheid movement sports boycotts Brutus played such a key role in. Here’s a trailer:http://activevoice.net/haveyouheard_fairplay.html.