Dennis Brutus

On Mao’s birthday December 26, poet Dennis Brutus died from prostate cancer at the age of 85. This is a great loss to the oppressed and me persynally.

Brutus served time on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in the apartheid era of South Africa. A leader of the sports boycott movement against apartheid, Brutus became known as a political poet denouncing injustice in South Africa.

I met Dennis Brutus in the early 1980s at Harvard University, where I arranged as many talks by him as we could find audiences. It was part of a movement to cut overall U.$. ties to apartheid.

In the earlier part of that Harvard movement, a Harvard-based southern Africa charity and I grew concerned with his health. Briefly it seemed that he might not have far to go and all guesses were that the gunshot wound from authorities had weakened him. This turned out to be inaccurate and Brutus lived an active life another 25 plus years.

Much like Noam Chomsky, Brutus possessed a command of news details organized in an internationalist fashion that he could recite in talks at will. Organized by my comrades at Boston University, the last Brutus talk of his I saw included brief mention of his China experience. Zhou Enlai told him if South Africans want aid they have to ask for it.  Brutus played a couple of us some table tennis on the way out of the Boston University talk. He relished showing how he was much better than us younger players.

Politically, it may surprise readers to know that Brutus claimed to have originated with politics in Trotsky-oriented study groups. Brutus did not partake in MIM’s polemics against Soviet revisionism and he made sure to point us toward the Pan-Africanist Congress when tactically necessary. Brutus worked well with all liberals and leftists who showed any interest in international issues.

In the early 1980s, Brutus asked for an idea of each of his audiences before he met them. When things got hairy, it was very reassuring to talk to someone who was a target of the South African secret services as a top 20 enemy. Brutus always knew when we were going to drown in liberal silliness or Cold War complications. At a meeting of hard-core activists, Brutus warned us not to be naive, that though we were young, the imperialist state would be at work.

I knew he had “made it” after he defeated his deportation from the United $tates and the USA Today published an editorial by him. Sometimes Brutus would be called to give talks in rather stuffy circumstances. At a University of Michigan talk, out of nowhere, Brutus remarked on the building World War III just to rock the boat wherever he was. Numerically, in the United $tates, it would be Brutus’s destiny to speak to liberal audiences totalling thousands each year, but he always maintained a seasoned and radical edge without fear of alienating future audiences.

Brutus agreed to do an ad for our paper the “MIM Notes” and while at the University of Pittsburgh surmised that some day he would become a supporter, as in financially. Nonetheless, he was strongly independent and he never joined our party.

After the fall of apartheid and his own meteoric rise in the U.$. media, Brutus made another prediction for me while at Tufts University on one occasion. Namely, he predicted it would be him to defend me against the state next. When I say his death is a persynal loss, I mean he was someone well aware of my own political context and that his struggle aided mine.

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