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South African Poet and Activist Dennis Brutus: “People Globally Are Deeply Unhappy” with Bush’s Reelection

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We speak with renowned South African poet, activist and professor, Dennis Brutus Bush’s reelection, Haitian President Aristide’s exile to South Africa, the IMF and much more. [includes rush transcript]

In apartheid South Africa of the 60s, Dennis Brutus was an outspoken activist against the racist state. He helped secure South Africa’s suspension from the Olympics, eventually forcing the country to be expelled from the games in 1970. He was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to 18 months of hard labor on Robben Island off Capetown, with Nelson Mandela. Brutus was banned from teaching, writing, and publishing in South Africa. His first collection of poetry, “Sirens, Knuckles and Boots” was published in Nigeria while he was in prison.

After he was released, Brutus fled South Africa on a Rhodesian passport. In 1983, after a protracted legal struggle, Brutus won the right to stay in the United States as a political refugee. He is professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dennis Brutus is joining us now here in the studio in Pittsburgh.

  • Dennis Brutus, South African poet, activist and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now here on Democracy Now!, welcome, Dennis Brutus.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dennis, you are well known for much of your activism, anti-apartheid activism, most recently anti-globalization protest. You participated in a war crimes tribunal in New York. Can you talk about your view of the elections, and its effect, particularly on various countries in Africa?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Well, I think globally people are deeply unhappy. One of the problems people say in Africa is they say, “How could the people of the United States elect this man?” It’s a real puzzle. They are also ignorant about the amount of protest in this country, and they’re quite surprised when they hear there are peace marches and demonstrations. Democracy Now!, unfortunately, is not reaching as many people as it might. So, generally, I think the feeling is one of pessimism and surprise. I have been to Africa, in fact, I was there when George Bush was visiting Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria. We might want to talk about that. But it seems to me that the global movement for peace and against war is growing all the time. People will see this election as a setback, but in a curious way, they also say maybe people are going to get so mad that finally they’re going to stand up and take the kind of opposition which will actually be meaningful. Maybe we’re being too optimistic but there is this hope that there will in fact be a very powerful reaction, in fact, the local papers quoted me, and they had a headline that said, Bush: the catalyst, the one who might actually help to generate real opposition in — of course, there is some, but it’s not sufficiently significant to bring about change. And what we hope will happen is real change.

AMY GOODMAN: What about President Bush’s visit with the South African president, Thabo Mbeki?

DENNIS BRUTUS: This is very peculiar, because he went to South Africa at a time when there was a summit of African countries meeting in Maputu in Mozambique. But instead, he went to Pretoria and met exclusively with Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, and he announced in the context of Zimbabwe, “Thabo Mbeki is my point man.” The next day, Mbeki flew from Pretoria to Maputu to meet with the heads of all the other African states, but he came there now with this kind of accolade that he had been canonized as President Bush’s point man for the whole continent of Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a different issue, and that is several countries reports are, including the United States and Canada, expressing support for the U.S. installed regime in Haiti for issuing an arrest warrant for Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is currently in exile in South Africa.

DENNIS BRUTUS: This is very complex, Amy. On the one hand, as I’m sure you know, the United States had a direct hand in the coup which got rid of Aristide, and in fact, Colin Powell was involved in the process by which he boarded the plane to leave the country under duress and protesting. Now, he’s in South Africa. He’s been offered an academic job there. I have tried to raise with Kofi Annan the question of let’s find out the truth of what really happened in Haiti, but unfortunately, and curiously, the French are also involved in this, because as you know, Haiti was going to seek reparations from the French government. It’s very complex. My own wish is that we ought to hear at the U.N. itself what really happened in Haiti, and Aristide should be given the opportunity to be heard. As of now, the people in Haiti who would like to support Aristide are so afraid because of the kind of repercussions for their families, if they were to speak out. So I find them very reluctant to speak out.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, on the issue of what the new government here, which continues as the Bush administration, means for Africa when you said people ask why. What is the significance? What do you think is the greatest effect?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Well, I think two-fold. The one is, as you may know, we used to have what is called the O.A.U., Organization of African Unity, which is now changed. It’s become the A.U., African Union. It’s bound by a very peculiar document which is called “A New Partnership for African Development,” which requires all African countries to obey the instructions of the World Bank and the I.M.F., and if they don’t, they’re accused that they don’t have good governance. So, they have to behave themselves. That’s one half of the problem. The other is that the United States is seeking to establish further military bases in Africa, and it’s expecting African governments to cooperate with that. So this whole new process of an African Union seems to me very dangerous, because Africa is being dragged into collaboration with a kind of imperial agenda, global domination, what they call full spectrum domination. So I think we’re in trouble, but I also think we are building resistance at the same time. That makes me quite hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Brutus, I want thank you very much for being with us.

DENNIS BRUTUS: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Brutus, South African poet, activist, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

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