Tribute to Dennis Brutus

On December 26th of last year the great South African poet, activist and former political prisoner, Dennis Brutus, died. He was 85. We decided to dedicate a week to his memory. What follows is not a biography or obituary (that can be read here), but instead the personal responses of two of our regular contributors, Jabulani Mzinyathi and Prince Mensah, to the news of Brutus' passing.

Jabulani Mzinyathi's Tribute:

in one of my poems, 'erasing my memories', i wrote as follows:

how can i forget dennis brutus
choose to forget ruth first
choose to forget umkhonto we sizwe
separate me from that struggle
that african struggle for freedom

i was trying to show that there are many heroes of the bigger african struggle. dennis brutus was one of them. i remember meeting him at the zimbabwe international book fair in harare way back in 1993. i had as usual attended the z.i.b.f in order to meet my kith and kin in the writing fraternity.

it was great to meet the grizzled poet. i did not unfortunately have an opportunity to sit down and talk at length with this hero! it was however quite inspiring to meet a great poet in person and hear him speak with a certain directness and simplicity. i detected a streak of humility in him.

i am the least qualified to sing praises to this anti-apartheid activist but let me share with the readers one of his poems which is in the book fair book in a day. this book was published on 6 august 1993 by the z.i.b.f trust.

the poem quoted in extenso reads:

See the garbage heaps of our time
are corpses:
the bodies will be buried
by bulldozers pushing mounds
of bank notes:
Greed pollutes our planet.
Corruption extirpates
our humanity.

if this does not sum up our general state of affairs in very simple terms then i do not know what will. in these few lines there really is the expression of profound thoughts by a poet with a prophetic vision. readers be the judges!

in closing, it is only befitting to send off a poet with a poem:

in the beginning was the word
in the end will be the word
for you used words to confront
confronting the truncheons
confronting the racist jack boots
for yous was righteous indignation

posterity will treasure the words
the struggle is not yet over
'greed pollutes our planet'
there are the old and new foes
your words will be our compass

did you leave poetic attacks on xenophobia
the reversal of the gains of struggle
you must have shed a tear or two
somewhere on the pages must be the tear drops
the activist in you did not die
the activist in you secured immortality

Prince Mensah's Tribute:

To Dennis Brutus

The one who stabbed caesars of apartheid
With words sharper than swords, is dead –
This prison could hold him no more –
No longer shall sorrow rule.

Yes! Yes, the minions of myopia tried
Filling us with death and dread
But we did not obey their crazy law –
They forced us to lose our cool!

We rose because we got sick and tired,
We faced the guns we once feared –
The anger was real, the poetry was raw,
It took the goons back to school –

Back to the college of common conscience,
To the fact that oppression cannot win
Where the love of justice is the ambiance
Of our heart and soul, of our will and being.

O’ Brutus! Not the one who killed Caesar
But the one who seized senseless
Institutionalized racism in
Our own land South Africa
By the horns and said, Enough!

O’ Dennis, we have called but no answer
Has come from your once-restless
Hands or the defiance that drove us to win,
To rise and heal the canker,
To prevail against the tough

Intransigence of the brute abuser –
Praises for you are endless,
Our gratitude is in the dance and din
You hear as winds speak waka
In the land of sacred stuff

Where you are now an honored citizen,
Where no one riles at you because of race
And the many things on the horizon
Are colors of a world we all embrace.


Unknown said...

the correct position is i met dennis brutus in harare in 1993.

Rob Taylor said...

Thanks Jabulani, that's been fixed! "Way back in 2003" did sound a little strange!

Darko Antwi said...

Welldone gentlemen. Your last poems at the tail of last year were outstanding too.