Dennis Vincent Brutus, journalist and poet, Died at 85


Dead, Dennis Vincent Brutus on the 26th of December 2009 at the age of 85, he was a South African activist, educator, journalist and poet best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympic Games.

Born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia) on the 28th of November 1924, to South African parents, Brutus was of indigenous Khoi, Dutch, French, English, German and Malaysian ancestry.

Brutus was a graduate of the University of Fort Hare (BA, 1946) and of the University of the Witwatersrand, where he studied law. He taught English and Afrikaans at several high schools in South Africa after 1948, but was eventually dismissed for his vocal criticism of apartheid.

He served on the faculty of the University of Denver, Northwestern University and University of Pittsburgh, and was a Professor Emeritus from the last institution.

Brutus was arrested in 1960 for breaking the terms of his “banning,” which were he could not meet with more than two people outside his family, and sentenced to 18 months in jail. However, he “jumped bail and fled to Mozambique, where Portuguese secret police arrested him and returned him to South Africa.

There, while trying to escape, he was shot in the back at point-blank range. After only partly recovering from the wound, Brutus was sent Robben Island … for 16 months, five in solitary.” He was in the cell next to Nelson Mandela’s.

Brutus was in prison when news of the country’s suspension from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for which he had campaigned, broke.

As the white minority government increased restrictions on the black population, he became involved in a series of antiapartheid-related activities, including efforts to end discrimination in sports.

The government subsequently banned him from teaching, writing, publishing, attending social or political meetings, and pursuing his studies in law at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1963 his refusal to abide by the ban resulted in an 18-month prison term.

His campaigns eventually led to South Africa’s suspension from the 1964 Olympic Games. Due in part to Brutus’s continued pressure on the International Olympic Committee, South Africa was later officially expelled from the Olympics and did not compete again until 1992.

Brutus’s first collection of poetry, Sirens, Knuckles and Boots (1963), was published in Nigeria while he was in prison. His verse, while political in nature, is highly developed and restrained: “. . . all our land is scarred with terror / rendered unlovely and unlovable; / sundered are we and all our passionate surrender / but somehow tenderness survives” (from “Somehow We Survive”).

Even in Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (1968), which records his experiences of misery and loneliness as a political prisoner, Brutus exhibits a restrained artistic control and combines tenderness with anger.

In April 2009, Rhodes University and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred him with an honorary literature doctorate.  He held six other honorary doctorates.  The South African Department of Arts and Culture honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.