Brunel University Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce the online launch of the catalogue of our Dennis Brutus Archives, which have been appraised, arranged and catalogued archivally for the first time. Consisting of only 3 boxes, nevertheless they give an insight into his anti-apartheid and anti-racism in sport campaigning, as well as his personal life including his exile from South Africa and subsequent struggles to find a safe haven for himself and his family.
Dennis Vincent Brutus (28 November 1924 – 26 December 2009) was a South African activist, educator, journalist and poet best known for his campaign to have South Africa banned from the Olympic Games due to its policy of apartheid.
Born 1927 in Rhodesia [Zimbabwe], Brutus grew up in Doverville, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He graduated from Fort Hare and taught for ten years in a government high school in Port Elizabeth, but was eventually dismissed for his vocal criticism of apartheid. He was also involved in the "coloured" [sic] Convention Movement. In 1958 he founded the South African Sports Association (SASA) whose essential aim was the elimination of racism in South African sport, and which worked to suspend international recognition of any sports associations which refused to condemn racism. SASA's major achievements were the suspension of the Football Association of South Africa and the international recognition of the non-racial Table Tennis Board in place of the S.A. Table Tennis Union. In 1962 a parallel organisation was started to persuade the International Olympic Committee to act against the South African Olympic Committee. The South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC), with Dennis Brutus as its president, had considerable success, not only with the exclusion of South Africa from the Olympic Games of 1968, but also with the withdrawal in 1976 of many African competitors from the Montreal Olympics as a consequence of New Zealand's refusal to stop its rugby team from playing against that of South Africa.
In 1961 Brutus was dismissed from his teaching post and was banned from attending all gatherings. He went to the University of Witwatersrand to study law. In 1963 he tried to attend an International Olympic Committee meeting in West Germany but was arrested while he was in Mozambique by the Portuguese colonial secret police, who returned him to South Africa. There, while trying to escape, he was shot in the back at point-blank range. After only partly recovering from the wound, Brutus was sent to Robben Island for sixteen months, five in solitary. He was in the cell next to Nelson Mandela's for a time. Brutus was in prison when news broke of the country's suspension from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for which he had campaigned.
After he was released, in 1965 Brutus left South Africa on an exit permit, which meant he could never return home while the apartheid regime stayed in power. He went into exile in Britain and later the United States. When his British passport was cancelled in the wake of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, he was threatened with deportation and fought a protracted and highly publicized legal battle until 1983, when he was granted asylum in the United States. He served on the faculties of the University of Denver, Northwestern University (professor of African Literature) and University of Pittsburgh, and was a Professor Emeritus from the latter. He continued to participate in protests against the apartheid government while teaching in the United States. He was eventually "unbanned" by the South African government in 1990. He returned to South Africa and was based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he often contributed to the annual Poetry Africa Festival hosted by the university and supported activism against neo-liberal policies in contemporary South Africa through working with NGOs.
His first volume of poetry, Sirens, Knuckles and Boots, was published in Ibadan in 1963, and his second, Letters to Martha, in London in 1968.
In 2008, Brutus was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Award by the South African Department of Arts and Culture for his lifelong dedication to African and world poetry and literary arts. Dennis Brutus died 26 December 2009 (aged 85), Cape Town, South Africa.
These papers were donated to the Library of West London Institute of Higher Education (a predecessor of Brunel University London) in 1994. We have not been able to find any information on how this came to be, or who donated the papers.