Subject: On the Passing of Dennis Brutus


With deep appreciation for all his life has given, it is with great sadness that I bring you news of the passing of my friend, Dennis Brutus.  On December 26 he has joined the ancestors of the ongoing struggles for social liberation.

Doug Norberg
There will come a time 
There will come a time we believe 
When the shape of the planet 
and the divisions of the land 
Will be less important; 
We will be caught in a glow of friendship 
a red star of hope 
will illuminate our lives 
A star of hope 
A star of joy 
A star of freedom 

     (Dennis Brutus, 2008)

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
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
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
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
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,
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)