South Africa: A glowing tribute to Dennis Brutus

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
things?) —
so, in their guilt,
the bared ferocity of teeth,
chest-thumping challenge and defiance,
the deafening clamour 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, organised scale
which magnifies enormously
as the private deshabille of love
becomes obscene in orgies.
©Dennis Brutus

“Their Behavior” is one of the many poems that Dennis Brutus wrote on Blood River Day in 1965, in reference to the Blood River Massacre on the banks of Ncome River on 16 December 1838, in what is in present day, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Dennis BrutusThe News of the death of Dennis Brutus came as a rude shock to many, not just in South Africa but to the world at large who knew him for his poetry and activism against the Apartheid Government of South Africa in the 1960s and his fight for social justice throughout his life.

Brutus succumbed to prostate cancer at his home in Cape Town, South Africa on the 26th of December 2009. He died at the age of 85.

Born in Born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia) to South African parents in 1924, Brutus was of African, French and Italian ancestry.

Brutus is reknown for having started the South African Sports Association (SASA) as the founding secretary motivated by the unfairness of selections for athletic teams. The Association began by lobbying all-white sports organizations to change voluntarily, but made no progress.

In 1962, Brutus helped form a new group to challenge South Africa’s official Olympic Committee. The organization, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, of which he was president, persuaded Olympic committees from other countries to vote to suspend South Africa from the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.
Brutus was in prison serving an 18 month sentence when news of the country's suspension from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for which he had campaigned, broke. His Cell was next to Nelson Mandela’s at Robben Island.

It is while in prison that Brutus wrote his first collection of political poems titled Sirens, Knuckles and Boots. This collection was later awarded the Mbari Poetry Prize which is presented to an exceptional black poet every year. Brutus turned the offer down because of its racial exclusivity.

Until the time of his death, Brutus had published over 12 poetry books.

He returned to South Africa after having worked as a Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and was based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal where he often contributed to the annual Poetry Festival Poetry Africa hosted by the University.

He died supporting activism against neo-liberal policies in contemporary South Africa including struggles against the management of that University.

News of his death and tributes have appeared on various mainstream news websites as well as from bloggers throughout the African Continent.

The New York Times had the headline, Dennis Brutus, South African Poet, Dies at 85 on 27th Dec, 09

Black Looks a Nigerian blogger gave a tribute by quoting Dennis Brutus’ call to action

We are in serious difficulty all over the planet. We are going to say to the world: There’s too much of profit, too much of greed, too much of suffering by the poor… The people of the planet must be in action.” …Dennis Brutus

Annie commented on the news by saying

Hi Sokari, I haven’t been on BL in such a long time, I almost didn’t recognize it. Congratulations on all your amazing work. I sent you a message on facebook. Let’s email and reconnect.
RIP Dennis Brutus. An important generation is passing on and I am not entirely sure who is stepping up and into their shoes.

KasieKulture, a South African Blogger wrote an Ode to a beloved, as his tribute in the poem,

the road to Havana
if only the travel agent told me
my heart will be tainted on the way to valhalla
my soul will be hijacked @ the gates of gehenna
that sinning will be standard as i make for pearly's
i'll feel nothing when i hurt people closest to me
innocent hearts lacerated for my failure to commit
i'm sorry sistas my one heart was torn into two
i had love for coitus but i fucked with banknotes
love letters that were written never mailed to me
still stacked in your bedroom with my physical address
i'm here baby still around my knuckles bruised in a bout
my spirit defiled my conscience shiver sending echoes of guilt
Read the rest of the poem here

oficinadesociologia, a blogger from Mozambique wrote this on their blog

Morreu Dennis Brutus

Sou um rebelde e a liberdade é a minha causa – Dennis Brutus (1924-2009), activista anti-apartheid, um dos maiores activistas e poetas africanos, falecido de cancro na próstata na sua residência na África do Sul. Foi uma vez detido em Moçambique na era colonial. Obrigado ao Ricardo, meu correspondente em Paris, por me ter recordado o desenlace. Paz à sua alma.

The Cricket South Africa (CSA) sent their condolences to the family and colleagues of Dennis Brutus through the South African blog,

Other tributes and news of Brutus’ death were featured on Poéfrika in Lesotho, Khanya and Empty Sky both in South Africa, Bagucci in Nigeria and Myself, KenyanPoet in Kenya.

Rasta People 100 has put a photo slide tribute on Youtube, with Lucky Dube's song on Apartheid.

MediaGrr19, shares a video from a news clip that featured Brutus’ 2005 interview on Democracy Now

As Poets worldwide moan his death and wonder who will be fit to fill the shoes that Brutus has left, I leave you with a comment by Rethabile of Poéfrika

I think, as Barack Obama said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” We need to step into such shoes today, or else…


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