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Fri, 11.28.1924

Dennis Brutus, S.A. Activist born

Dennis Brutus

*Dennis Brutus was born on this date in 1924.  He was a white-South African activist, poet and publisher. 

Born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Brutus was the son of South African teachers who moved back to their native country when he was still a boy.  He majored in English at Fort Hare University, which he attended on full scholarship, and taught at several South African high schools.  In his early 20s, he helped create the South African Sports Association, which protested against the official white sports association in South Africa. Arrested in 1963, Brutus fled the country when released on bail, but was captured in Johannesburg and nearly killed when shot as he attempted to escape police custody and forced to wait for an ambulance that would accept Blacks.  

Brutus was sentenced to 18 months at Robben Island as an anti-apartheid activist where he met Nelson Mandela in the mid-1960s.  His books "Sirens, Knuckles, Boots" and "Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison" were published while he was in jail. He helped persuade Olympic officials to ban South Africa from competition from 1964 until apartheid ended nearly 30 years later.   Forced to leave the country in 1966, he immigrated to the United States in 1971, but his legal troubles did not end.  The Reagan administration, which began in 1981, changed the policy on political refugees, making it more difficult for them to remain in the U.S. Brutus fought deportation for two years before an immigration judge granted asylum. 

Brutus taught literature and African studies at Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh, a distinctive figure in old age with his flowing white hair and beard, engaged in protests against world financial organizations and in calls for stronger action against global warming.  Over the years, he completed more than a dozen collections of poetry, including "A Simple Lust," "Stubborn Hope" and "Salutes and Censures."  In 2006, Haymarket published a compilation of his work, "Poetry and Protest." His work was banned for years in South Africa, but one book, "Thoughts Abroad," slipped through; it was published in 1970 under the pseudonym John Bruin. 

He received numerous honorary prizes, including a lifetime achievement award from South Africa's Department of Arts and Culture. But in 2007 he rejected induction into the South Africa Sports Hall of Fame, stating, "It is incompatible to have those who championed racist sport alongside its genuine victims. It's time - indeed long past time - for sports truth, apologies and reconciliation." Brutus remained engaged and became passionate about environmental justice and climate change. 

In an open letter about the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, he warned against "brokering a deal that allows the corporations and the oil giants to continue to abuse the earth.  He was honored with the Peace Award of the War Resisters League in New York City in 2009. Dennis Brutus' publisher, Chicago-based Haymarket Books, said the writer died in his sleep at his home in Cape Town on December 26, 2009. He had been battling prostate cancer.  

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Reference:

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