Dennis Brutus died quietly in his sleep today

Dennis Brutus died quietly in his sleep today:

“Statement from the Brutus Family on the passing of Professor Dennis Brutus

“Professor Dennis Brutus died quietly in his sleep on the 26th December, earlier this morning. He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and Dolly, eight children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in Hong Kong, England, the USA and Cape Town.

“Dennis lived his life as so many would wish to, in service to the causes of justice, peace, freedom and the protection of the planet. He remained positive about the future, believing that popular movements will achieve their aims.

“Dennis’ poetry, particularly of his prison experiences on Robben Island, has been taught in schools around the world. He was modest about his work, always trying to improve on his drafts.

“His creativity crossed into other areas of his life, he used poetry to mobilize, to inspire others to action, also to bring joy.

“We wish to thank all the doctors, nurses and staff who provided excellent care for Dennis in his final months, and to also thank St. Luke’s Hospice for their assistance.

“There will be a private cremation within a few days and arrangements for a thanks giving service will be made known in early January.”

(Thanks to Patrick Bond for circulating this.)

For many, young, old and anywhere in between, Dennis has been a presence, a gentle and insistent education into the beauty of the persistent struggle for social justice and into the need to remember that social justice emanates from and builds on love, laughter, beauty, understanding, sharing, humanity.

Dennis first came to the attention of many with his collection Letters to Martha & other Poems from a South African Prison. Here’s one of those poems, “Letter 18”, dated 20 December 1965. Hamba kahle dear greatly daring poet hamba kahle sala kahle.


I remember rising one night
after midnight
and moving
through an impulse of loneliness
to try and find the stars.

And through the haze
the battens of fluorescents made
I saw pinpricks of white
I thought were stars.

Greatly daring
I thrust my arm through the bars
and easing the switch in the corridor
plunged my cell in darkness

I scampered to the window
and saw the splashes of light
where the stars flowered.

But through my delight
thudded the anxious boots
and a warning barked
from the machine gun post
on the catwalk.

And it is the brusque inquiry
and threat
that I remember of that night
rather than the stars.

20 December 1965”


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About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.