Today we remember Dennis Brutus, a poet and international anti-apartheid activist who died ten years ago. While in exile in the U.S., he became a founding director of the National Whistleblower Center. Brutus understood the power of whistleblowing and pushed to expand the center’s efforts internationally.

He led the effort to get apartheid South Africa barred from the Olympics. His activism landed him in the same Robbin Island prison as Nelson Mandela and then, on to exile. In the U.S., he taught, wrote poetry and promoted the divestiture movement. When President Ronald Regan ordered him deported, NWC founding board members Michael and Steven Kohn successfully defended him. He returned to South Africa in 1991 and continued pushing for justice there and worldwide.

Patrick Bond a professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa offers this tribute to Brutus.

The memory of Dennis Brutus will remain everywhere there is struggle against injustice. Uniquely courageous, consistent and principled, Brutus bridged the global and local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red and green. He was an emblem of solidarity with all those peoples oppressed and environments wrecked by the power of capital and state elites. But in his role as a world-class poet, Brutus also taught us well, that social justice advocates can have both bread and roses.

Michael Kohn wrote about Brutus at the time of his death. He remembered when they decided to take his case.

Dennis Brutus portrait / Michale Kohn

He faced an uphill battle to convince an Immigration Judge to reverse the INS’s administrative ruling that he be deported.  Dennis was hated by pro-Apartheid forces in the newly elected Administration, mostly due to his highly successful campus campaigns to force divestiture from South Africa. The deportation order was clearly retaliatory.  I heard him speak and I was immediately drawn to his calmness, his intellect and his devotion to doing the right thing no matter the cost.  He was not only an inspirational figure, he was also someone who could not be stopped from doing what was right. 


Hear some of his poems in this video, and read one below.

 I will be the world’s troubadour

I will be the world’s troubadour

if not my country’s


jousting up and down

with justice for my theme

weapons as I find them

and a world-wide scatter of foes

Being what I am

a compound of speech and thoughts and song

and girded by indignation

and accoutred with some undeniable scars

surely I may be

this cavalier?

Dennis Brutus