"Somehow we survive? and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither."
Those words were written by Dennis Brutus. Born in what is now
Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, Brutus was a poet and political
activist. He died in his sleep on Saturday, after a battle with prostate
cancer. He was eighty five.
Dennis Brutus began fighting against apartheid in his early twenties,
when he helped form the unofficial South African Sports Association to
protest its official white counterpart. In 1964, he played a prominent
role in the persuading Olympic officials to ban the country from
competition until the end of apartheid.
But he almost didn't get the chance.
In 1963, he was arrested for his sports-related activism. Released on
bail, he fled to Mozambique, where he was intercepted and deported to
Johannesburg. There, once again, he tried to escape and, this time, he
was shot. He nearly died while waiting for an ambulance that would carry
But somehow he survived.
He was sentenced to eighteen months hard labour at Robben Island
prison alongside Nelson Mandela and his work was banned from being
printed in South Africa. However, his first collection, "Sirens,
Knuckles, Boots" was published in Nigeria while he was still behind
After his release, Brutus was forced to leave the country and he
emigrated to the United States in 1971. There, he taught literature and
African Studies at Northwestern University and the University of
Pittsburgh, continuing his activism from abroad.
After twenty five years in exile, Brutus returned to visit South
Africa in 1991, as apartheid fell apart. He accepted an award of merit
for his political work on that trip.
Dennis Brutus eventually moved back to the country, where, in his home
in Cape Town, he died on Saturday. And so we pay tribute to the poet,
with the last lines of his poem, "Somehow we survive."
"Patrols uncoil along the asphalt dark/
hissing their menace to our lives/
most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror/
rendered unlovely and unlovable/
sundered are we and all our passionate surrender/
but somehow tenderness survives."