[Marxism] Dennis Brutus tribute, NYC, Saturday night

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Jan 18 22:11:03 MST 2006

(Please send to NY comrades and encourage them to turn out, thanks!)

Join The Haymarket Forum for a unique evening:

Poetry and Protest
A Celebration of Art and Activism with Dennis Brutus

Brutus's new book, "Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader"
(http://cbsd.com/detail.aspx?Inventory=18018 )
is being launched at the event by Haymarket Books

with special guests:
* Dennis Brutus
* Deepa Fernades, host of WBAI's Wake Up Call! (http://wakeupcallradio.org/)
* The Bread is Rising Poetry Collective (Carlos Raul Dufflar and Angel 
* Brian Jones, star of Howard Zinn's Marx in Soho 
and other special guests....

January 21, 2006 at 7 PM

Free and Open to the Public at:
16 Beaver Group
16 Beaver Street, Fifth Floor

Take the 4/5 to Bowling Green, the N/R to Whitehall, the 1/2 to Wall
Street, the J/M to Broad Street, or the A/C to Broadway

Sponsored by:
Haymarket Books, Center for Economic Research and Social Change, 16
Beaver Group


Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader
Edited by Lee Sustar and Aisha Karim
© 2006 by Lee Sustar and Aisha Karim
Published by Haymarket Books

Permission is granted by the authors to reproduce this material for 
nonprofit and educational purposes. Please include full publication details 
when excerpting.

Dennis Brutus's "Ticking Explosives"

 "The struggle continues": This well-known slogan of the left certainly 
characterizes Dennis Brutus's life's work. Shot by the apartheid South 
African police in 1963 and imprisoned for eighteen months alongside Nelson 
Mandela, Dennis Brutus was exiled from his homeland for twenty-five years. 
It was during this exile that he burst onto the international stage with a 
simultaneous debut as a world-class poet and effective political organizer, 
who led the successful campaign to expel apartheid South Africa from the 
Olympic Games. Four decades later, Brutus continues to organize, speak, and 
write with the aim of global social transformation. Through this period his 
politics and poetry have continued to be welded together. Thus, the 
selection of articles, speeches, and interviews in this book, spanning half 
a century, not only document struggles of the past, but also inform the 
perspectives for those to come. Also included is a substantial selection of 
Brutus's poetry, much of which has been long out of print despite the widely 
acknowledged literary significance of many of the works included in this 
            Brutus's work consciously contends with the dilemma of the 
artist-activist. In a characteristically untitled poem, we see a poet 
complaining: "I must lug my battered body" across the globe, reciting 
"wear-shined clichés" of poetry.1 The poem ends with the poet claiming: "in 
my baggage I bear the ticking explosives/of reproach, and threat, and 
challenge" (10-11). If these "ticking explosives" are the words of reproach 
that the poet carries in his luggage, and if this luggage is at the same 
time the very body of the poet, an act of superimposition has taken place: 
by the end of this poem, the body of the poet and the words of reproach-the 
poetry-have become one. To put it another way, the word and the act, history 
and the text, politics and poetry, have melded together to the extent that 
they have become indistinguishable. In this sense, Brutus's poetry is 
representative of contemporary Third World writing. If there is a 
generalization that can be made about such literature, it is that its 
creation is itself a political act. And Brutus belongs to that tradition of 
contemporary Third World writers whose writings have consciously grappled 
with the inescapably political nature of such literature. Another of Brutus's 
poems overtly gestures towards this superimposition of literature and 
politics as a historical necessity: "In a country which denies that men/ and 
women are human. /the creative act is an act/ of dissent and defiance" (1-5) 
and of the "assert[ion] of one's/ Humanity" (8-9).2 The very act of writing 
under apartheid, then, becomes an act of resistance.
            Our aim, here, is to trace, in microcosm, not only the 
continuity between literature and politics, but also the process of 
broadening of social struggles. In other words, this work explores how a 
national movement against apartheid broadens itself into the movement for 
global justice, and what place an individual life, on one level, and 
literature, on another, may have in this expansion of social struggle. 
Accordingly, this volume is also an oral, documentary, and artistic history 
of decolonization, national liberation, anti-apartheid, and global justice 
movements, told through the work of Dennis Brutus as an oppositional figure 
and a grassroots participant in those struggles. In this respect, Brutus's 
position recalls another participant in such struggles, Frantz Fanon, whose 
essays in the National Liberation Front (FLN) newspaper, El Moudjahid, 
mobilizing for the struggle against French rule in Algeria, warn of what 
awaits the decolonized countries. Fanon calls for a second, post-nationalist 
stage of struggle, which, in contrast to the nationalist stage, would be 
internationalist in character.3 Brutus's struggles, in keeping with the 
Fanonian tradition, do not stop after liberation from apartheid in South 
Africa, but continue and are broadened into the movement for global justice, 
or, in South African President Thabo Mbeki's phrase, against "global 
            It is this process of the expansion of struggles-and their 
connections with Brutus's political and literary work-that we wish to 
document in this book. Although, as with any narrative, chronology is 
integral to Brutus's story, we have prioritized thematic over chronological 
organization; we have followed chronological order only insofar as it helps 
highlight the development of Brutus's work as an activist-poet. Accordingly, 
the book consists of three parts that deal, respectively, with the 
conditions that made for the radicalization and emergence of the 
poet-activist, the necessary intertwining of cultural and political 
liberation, and the possibility of a national movement maturing into a 
global struggle. Each part begins with a memoir, based on a series of 
interviews conducted between April 2004 and September 2005 by Lee Sustar.4 
These memoirs establish Brutus as a key political actor in the history of 
the anti-apartheid struggle, and as chronicler, storyteller, strategist, and 
analyst of the movement. The memoirs record a life inextricably linked with 
the political struggle and with many of its leading figures including, most 
notably, Nelson Mandela, whose transition from a twenty-seven-year 
imprisonment to the South African presidency symbolizes the dignity and 
resolve of the liberation movement. These memoirs introduce and provide the 
organizational principle, and the historical crux, for each of the three 
            In addition to the memoirs, we have included a range of 
documents: essays on sports and apartheid; speeches at historical occasions; 
and interviews that explore the complex interplay between literary texts and 
social movements, culture and politics. Each part concludes with a selection 
of poems that engage with the thematic concerns of the respective sections. 
We see the poems, here, as that realm of culture that is indispensable to, 
and inextricable from, the political: the poems provide that space in the 
imaginary where Brutus's social and political concerns are thought through 
and find artistic expression.
            The poems are selected for each part of this volume not 
necessarily because they were composed during the historical period in 
question, but more importantly because these poems, even when composed years 
later, deal with the historical events and concerns of that period. For 
example, in Part 1 we juxtapose the poems written in prison, "Letters to 
Martha," with poems written later-"Still the sirens,"-about the experience 
of repression and imprisonment. This juxtaposition produces stark results 
when, in Part 3, we put "Train Journey," written in 1968, side by side with 
"Picture of a young girl dying of aids," written in 1991. What is produced 
is not only a picture of the tragic continuity of life under apartheid, but 
also the premonition of a questionable liberation. Similarly, the 
juxtaposition of two poems-"In a country that denies that men and women," 
written in 1989 and ostensibly about apartheid, and "Mumia," written in 
1999-poignantly brings together the experience of apartheid with the 
post-civil rights struggles of African Americans in the United States. The 
result is a vision of internationalization of the anti-apartheid struggles. 
In this way, poems are presented to the reader in the framework in which 
Brutus produced them-as integral to, and enactments of, political struggles.
            Part 1 includes Brutus's account of growing up in one of South 
Africa's "colored" ghettos under apartheid-surrounded by the kind of poverty 
that, as Brutus points out, has persisted in the post-apartheid era. His 
writings about race, sports, and apartheid included here highlight the 
contradictions between sports' notion of fair play and apartheid's 
institutional white supremacy. Brutus's powerful account of imprisonment on 
Robben Island, never before published, and edited specifically for this 
volume by Aisha Karim, details both the horrors of a sadistic prison regime 
as well as the efforts by political prisoners to maintain a measure of 
dignity and respect.
            For Brutus, who was introduced to socialist politics as a young 
man by South African followers of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, 
the struggle to overthrow apartheid became one element in an even greater 
endeavor. "The significance of the Southern African liberation movement is 
that it goes beyond resistance," he said in a 1974 speech:

It is not resistance to oppression; it is not even liberation merely in the 
sense of freedom to govern yourself. It has penetrated beyond that to an 
understanding that what we are engaged in is a struggle against imperialism. 
It is not a local, nor even a national struggle. We see ourselves as an 
element in the global struggle against imperialism. This seems to me the 
truly revolutionary element in our struggle for cultural liberation.5

            It is this concern with the relationship between politics and 
culture that forms the basis of Part 2. Divided into three sections, this 
part details Brutus's launch into the world of international sports, 
literature, and politics. First, we deal with Brutus in exile: operating 
from Britain and then from the United States, Brutus led the successful 
campaign to expel racist South Africa from the Olympic Games. This material 
focuses on Brutus's involvement in the sports world, including a memoir that 
details how Avery Brundage, head of the U.S. and International Olympic 
Committees, was pressured and maneuvered into expelling from the Games both 
South Africa and the white minority regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A 
selection of letters and documents provide insight into the campaign to 
isolate apartheid sports, an effort that involved activists and athletes 
internationally, including such well-known figures as boxing champion 
Muhammad Ali, tennis great Arthur Ashe, and baseball pitcher Jim Bouton.
            Second, we chronicle Brutus's emergence as a poet and a pivotal 
figure on the literary and academic scene. Among the articles and speeches 
included are Brutus's remarks to the first Pan-African Cultural Festival in 
Algiers in 1969, where he spoke as a representative of the Southern African 
liberation movements. This section also includes selections of Brutus's own 
writings on literature, as well as an interview on poetry and art conducted 
by Bernth Lindfors, a leading critic of African literature and close 
collaborator of Brutus's. These documents and poems, covering an era when 
social movements had a far-reaching impact on the academic world, remain 
signposts for those seeking to understand art in its historical and 
political context-more specifically, art as an inextricable part of social 
movements. This section also documents Brutus's central role in the African 
literary scene that he helped to establish within academia as a teacher of 
English literature; his collaborators have included such luminaries as the 
Nigerian writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka and the Kenyan author Ngugi 
wa Thiong'o.
            The dramatic and bitter last phase of the anti-apartheid 
struggle in the 1980s concludes Part 2. Included are documents from Brutus's 
successful campaign against a deportation order from the adminstration of 
President Ronald Reagan. The effort to deport Brutus came as he played an 
increasingly high profile role in the movement to compel U.S. corporations 
to divest from holdings in South Africa. Several of Brutus's speeches and 
articles from this period are included here, among them pieces detailing 
U.S. and Western economic, military, and political support for the apartheid 
            Part 3 covers the post-apartheid years. It includes Brutus's 
speeches, interviews, and poems that trace the rise of the global justice 
movement, which developed as the international Left contended with a new 
world order after the Cold War. In the post-apartheid era, Brutus helped to 
initiate campaigns against the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, 
and the World Trade Organization. These campaigns laid the cornerstones for 
the global justice movement and the annual gatherings of the Left at the 
World Social Forum. The selections in Part 3 underscore the continuity 
between the liberation movements of previous generations and those of today. 
These selections record Brutus's activism; for example, his support for such 
activist groups as the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, formed to stop 
service cutoffs to poor residents. Included here are articles and speeches 
by Brutus on why he was among the protesters at two high-profile 
international events hosted in South Africa: the United Nations World 
Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001 and the World Summit on 
Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. These articles and poems 
demand reparations from companies that profited from apartheid, trace the 
continuity between the anti-apartheid struggle and the struggle for racial 
equality in the U.S., and attempt to envision the possibility of a different 
            While Brutus sees the Group of Eight industrialized countries, 
the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, as institutions forming 
the core of the world system and its problems, he also becomes equally 
critical of the post-apartheid South African government, which he views as 
having collaborated with an imperialist agenda:

where we marched against the oppression of a minority racist regime in the 
past, we now have to march against the people we put in power. The people 
who were elected to serve us, are now serving instead the World Bank, the 
IMF, and the whole corporate global agenda. And so we are now in the 
position once again, of having to march. And some of us will be beaten, and 
some of us will be jailed, and some of us may end up in prison, as I did on 
Robben Island [prison], when I broke stones with Nelson Mandela many years 

            Many of Brutus's former comrades, now part of the post-apartheid 
government, have responded to these criticisms harshly. Essop Pahad, a 
minister in President Thabo Mbeki's office and member of the South African 
Communist Party (SACP) who once worked with Brutus in the South African 
Non-Racial Olympic Committee, criticizes Brutus for having "disappeared 
without trace from the anti-apartheid struggle many years before 1994, and 
re-emerged in the last few years to hurl invective at the democratic 
government and programs for Africa's recovery." Pahad continues:

However, to the extent that on some issues such as eradicating global 
inequality, we may agree, perhaps there is hope for cooperation. Welcome 
home Dennis the Menace! Hope this time you will stay, the better to 
appreciate that we cannot not allow our modest achievements to be wrecked 
through anarchy. Opponents of democracy seek such destruction. But if you 
intend once more to leave for demonstrations elsewhere, we can only retort: 
et tu Brute! Good luck.7

            Such a dismissal of Brutus's contributions to the anti-apartheid 
movement, however, contradicts the historical record as laid out in this 
book and elsewhere. More significantly, Pahad's criticisms of Brutus reflect 
an irreconcilable difference between the internationalism that Brutus has 
always upheld and the African National Congresses's (ANC's) view of national 
liberation in South Africa-the achievement of a non-racial government-as an 
end in itself. On the one hand, Pahad stresses the possibility of 
"cooperation" between Brutus and the "democratic government" of South Africa 
on the issue of "eradicating global inequality." But on the other hand, 
Pahad seems to ignore the possibility that Brutus's "leav[ing] for 
demonstrations elsewhere" might be part and parcel of this fight against 
global inequality-and that Brutus's continued activism in South Africa and 
his challenges to the ANC government are part of that same struggle for 
global justice.
            Indeed, it is precisely Brutus's ability to mesh the political 
and the cultural, the local and the global, that prompted the acclaimed 
South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, in a tribute on his eightieth 
birthday, to characterize Brutus as "a freedom fighter who never thought it 
necessary to give up being an intellectual, but combined both in the 
campaign that has been his life so far and there is no doubt will be as long 
as he is with us." Commenting on Brutus's move to extend the national into 
an international struggle, Gordimer continues: "His passion for justice in 
our African continent has now long extended to the whole world where the 
abyss between rich and poor countries grows instead of closing."8

Editorial note: Dating Brutus's poems
Dennis Brutus seldom titles or dates his poems. When he does provide the 
date of composition, we have included it next to the left margin; those 
dates need to be seen almost as part of the poem, as significant to the 
valence of the poem. As such, these composition dates stand in as the last 
lines of the poems. The dates on the extreme right are the original 
publication dates.

Aisha Karim and Lee Sustar
Chicago, Illinois
January 2006

1          This untitled poem begins with "I must lug my battered body." The 
subsequent in-text line numbers refer to this poem, included on page 126 in 
this volume. Henceforth, we will identify all of Brutus's untitled poems by 
their first lines.
2          These lines refer to the untitled poem, "In a country which 
denies that men," included on page 370 in this volume.
3          These essays are collected in Frantz Fanon, Toward The African 
Revolution: Political Essays, ed. Francois Maspero, trans. Haakon Chevalier 
(New York: Grove, 1967). See especially the essay, "The Algerian War and Man's 
Liberation," first published El Moudjahid, No, 31, November 1, 1958, also in 
Toward the African Revolution.
4          Dennis Brutus reviewed and approved all interview texts as Lee 
Sustar edited them for clarity.
5          See page 199 of this volume.
6          See page 359 of this volume.
7          Quoted in Patrick Bond, "Geopolitics of the Johannesburg 
Protests," September 2, 2002. Available on the Znet Web site.
8          Nadine Gordimer, "Tribute to Dennis Brutus: Brighter Than Their 
Searchlights," Illuminations 20 (August 2004), 34-35.




Fatima Meer, Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban (first official 
biographer of Nelson Mandela)

Denis, we thank you for your 80 glamorous years, a considerable part of them 
spent leading us in our fight against the injustices that was and still is 
unleashed upon us.

We know your disappointments and we salute you and applaud you for bringing 
them to our notice. I hope you are spared some score more years to correct 
the ways that still remain. I am with you in the fight that still remains 
and I need your commitment and your energy and your integrity.

Live on wonderful soldier, live on for South Africa, for all those who 
continue to be oppressed and deprived and impoverished throughout the world.

Live on Denis in spirit, if not in body.

Live on, dearest compatriot.


 Trevor Ngwane, Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Johannesburg

unkonka wefusi
umakad' ebona
inkunzi emidwayidwayi
okudala beyidwanguza
yehlula izinhlamvu zamaphoyisa ezomoya
yehlula amaBhunu esiqhingini
igagu umlom' omnandi
umlomo ishoba lokuziphungela
mfoka Bhaduza uthembeni na?
ngoba ozakweni bomzabalazo
sebephenduke amambuka
badla izambane likampondo
kodwa indima singakayiphethi
elikaMthaniya kaNdaba lisaphethwe zinyoni
mana njalo qabane lamaqabane
nwele zimhlophe
isina muva liyabukwa
oMandela bagiya bakushiya enkundleni
kanti baphosisile umgidi awukapheli
umzabalazo usaqhubeka
ithemba alisobe labulala
Dennis Brutus
uyiqhawe lamaqhawe
mana njalo
ukhule uze ukhokhobe
ubambelele ngezindonga


Center for Economic Justice, Alburquerque/Johannesburg

What makes Dennis Brutus so unique as an activist and as a human being, is 
that he has been an inspiration and a source of spiritual strength to so 
many of us worldwide who are struggling to make the world a just place, 
including all of us at the Center for Economic Justice. Struggling for 
justice and humanity is hard work; it is full of setbacks, heartbreak, and 
loss. It is precisely at the hardest points in our struggle that we think of 
Dennis. We are inspired by how he keeps doing the most important work in the 
world with a smile and with kind words for everyone. We are amazed at how 
strong his spirit is after everything that he has seen and suffered through, 
especially the betrayal of the hopes of the South African people by persons 
he had always regarded as comrades. We love you, Dennis!


Bill Fletcher, TransAfrica Forum, Washington

Dennis Brutus stands as a tribune of the dispossessed.  His willingness to 
speak out on all cases of injustice, and side with the oppressed makes him 
the type of person we all wish to emulate. His perseverance, dedication and 
eloquence have made him not only a hero for the South African freedom 
struggle, but for all those who struggle for social justice.


Patrick Bond, University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society

Dennis Brutus has a home and struggle everywhere there is injustice. Poetry 
and Protest is unquestionably amongst the most important of the several 
dozen political biographies South Africa has been blessed with since the 
early 1990s, because it is a story of a uniquely courageous and principled 
militant, who more than anyone from this country, bridges the global and 
local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red 
and green. He is the emblem of solidarity with all other people oppressed 
and environments wrecked by capital and elites.

Here in Durban, his battle against the New Partnership for Africa's 
Development at the African Union summit in July 2002 - which included losing 
a shoving match with a police horse - helped inspire our next generations to 
fight against Nepad and the UN's pro-privatisation World Summit on 
Sustainable Development the following month in Johannesburg. By serving as 
senior diplomat, strategist and problem-solver for Jubilee South Africa this 
past decade, Dennis put the phrase *apartheid reparations Yes!* on the 
political map, and struck fear in the hearts of the world's largest banks 
and corporations. As a guru of the Social Movements Indaba - the SA 
independent left's primary national coalition - he often soothes tensions 
and achieves compromise amongst our fractious socialist, autonomist and 
other radical folk. As a former national sports figure and today an 81-year 
old fire-breathing ever-travelling rarely-pausing no-compromising activist, 
he is simply our *model*. As a principled socialist, he is despised by the 
neoliberal bloc that runs South Africa, and by the World Bank's 
flack-catchers who know him as a critical threat to their funding sources in 
municipalities, universities and the world's largest pension funds. And by 
continuing his role as a world-class poet, Dennis shows that we can have 
both our bread and roses.


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