December 27, 2009
Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009
South African poet and former political prisoner Dennis Brutus, who fought apartheid in words and deeds and remained an activist well after the fall of his country's racist system, has died. He was 85.
Brutus' publisher, Chicago-based Haymarket Books, said the writer died in his sleep at his home in Cape Town on Saturday. He had been battling prostate cancer, according to Patrick Bond, who directs the Center for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, where Brutus was an honorary professor.
Brutus was an anti-apartheid activist jailed at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in the mid-1960s. He helped persuade Olympic officials to ban South Africa from competition from 1964 until apartheid ended nearly 30 years later.
Born in 1924 in what was then 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.
By his early 20s, he was politically involved and helped create the South African Sports Association, formed in protest against the official white sports association. Arrested in 1963, Brutus fled the country when released on bail, but was captured and nearly killed when shot as he attempted to escape police custody in Johannesburg and forced to wait for an ambulance that would accept blacks. Brutus was sentenced to 18 months at Robben Island.
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