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South African Poet and Anti-Apartheid Activist Dennis Brutus on Atlanta Social Forum and South Africa’s Changing Political Landscape

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A veteran of several World Social Forums, the South African poet and anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus talks about why he’s come to Atlanta and addresses growing upheaval in South Africa where the ruling ANC government is being criticized for continuing apartheid’s economic legacy. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to bring into the conversation a veteran of other World Social Forums, the South African poet Dennis Brutus. Dennis was imprisoned along with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island for his participation in the anti-apartheid struggle. He’s the author of many books, including Poetry & Protest, a collection of his writings. Welcome, Dennis Brutus, to Democracy Now!

DENNIS BRUTUS: Thank you. Good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this Social Forum that’s taking place in Atlanta in comparison with the other Social Forums and why you felt the need to be one of the organizers to make this one in the United States happen.

DENNIS BRUTUS: Well, I found Atlanta — and I only got here yesterday — very impressive. I like the participation of women, the trade unions, the kind of cultural activity. So it seems to me it’s bringing an additional energy. I’ve been in Brazil, Porto Alegre, and in India, Mumbai, and Nairobi earlier this year. We’ve had World Social Forums in different places. Each one, I think, builds on the movement, and it’s a movement of civil society. It’s people from the grassroots pushing for change. The slogan “Another World is Possible” means we reject the kind of globalizing process that is today run by the corporations. We’re talking of grassroots globalization. I think, for me, Atlanta is a very pleasant kind of forward movement from the earlier movements.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Dennis Brutus, the importance of having this Social Forum here in the United States, given the fact that, I guess, many people around the world would say that the vast majority of the American people are out of step with what is going on in the world?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Well, I guess I would have to agree in some sense. Certainly, for many people outside in other countries, they’ll talk of the United States as the “belly of the beast.” It’s where the oppressive process begins. But that’s only half the story, because there are so many people in the United States, activists, people in the churches, trade unions, community organizations. There is a different thrust. That thrust is for social justice, of course, in the United States, but also social justice in the other countries, which are part of this global process of repression: The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. We’re challenging that.

And I think we are actually making quite significant progress. I think all over the world the rejection of the corporate globalizing process is developing. And we see it in countries like Venezuela, for instance, other parts of the world, particularly, I think, South America. I wish I could say it’s also true of Africa. We’re being kind of slow in Africa right now, but I think we’re building in the same direction a different world, a more just world, a more humane world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In your mention of Africa, we, in the headlines, mentioned that Bishop Desmond Tutu raised some particularly sharp criticisms of the ANC in recent days. Your reaction to that?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Oh, I’m delighted, because it’s also what I’m saying, and I think we’re allies. We’re old friends, of course, as well. But the time is growing in South Africa where people, having achieved some degree of democracy, the post-apartheid era, we’re saying the people who made the promises are not delivering on those promises. And so, we’re into a new phase, and, I agree entirely with Desmond Tutu, we have to move forward and we ought to demand: Either you deliver or you’re going to have to change.

AMY GOODMAN: His quote exactly: “I’m really very surprised by the remarkable patience of people. [It’s hard] to explain why they don’t say to hell with Tutu, [Nelson] Mandela and the rest and go on the rampage.”

DENNIS BRUTUS: Yes, indeed. And I think that time will come. But you must remember we had all those terrible years between 1948 and up to the end of the ’80s, ’90s, when people endured incredible oppression of the apartheid system, a system under which I went to prison and, of course, many others. But there is this insistence on trying to discover the humane values, not to despair, not to resort to violence, if you can avoid it, and achieve a kind of social justice by persuasion, by organization, mobilizing. And I think Atlanta, for me, is a wonderful example of this process at work.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Lovelace, as national lead staff organizer for the U.S. Social Forum, why did you decide to do this in the South? You also have recently written a piece about Hurricane Katrina.

ALICE LOVELACE: Yeah. I think that the South actually was the only place that the first U.S. Social Forum could have happened for two reasons: one, because it was a symbol of the civil rights movement, which was a very successful convergence of movements, from labor, education, healthcare, grassroots — it was a bottom-up movement that ended in successful change, so we wanted to stand on the shoulders of something that had been successful to demonstrate to people we could have success again; and the second was because the South is a microcosm of the world. We are a part of the Global South. Everything that happens in global communities happens to us here in the South, everything from the poor education, poor healthcare, underpaid workers, bad housing, lack of water. So we, ourselves, are a microcosm of the world and the very issues that we’re trying to correct.

AMY GOODMAN: If people want to follow this online, if they’re not actually in Atlanta right now, where can they go?

ALICE LOVELACE: WRFG, a wonderful community radio station here in Atlanta, is live-streaming from the Social Forum the plenaries and the morning sessions. Our website will be continuously updating and giving people more information about what’s going on at the Social Forum. There are a number of newspapers, Pacifica and different outlets that are going to be either blogging, live streaming or doing current updates on the Social Forum, so people all over the world can follow what’s going on here.

DENNIS BRUTUS: Of course, Democracy Now! is doing a great job.

ALICE LOVELACE: Excellent job.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Lovelace and Dennis Brutus, thanks so much for being with us. And a shout out to our friends at WRFG Radio Free Georgia, as well as to People TV in Atlanta, both very important community media outlets. When we come back, we’re remaining in Atlanta, and we’ll be speaking with a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, as well as an immigrant rights activist, to talk about the latest decision or non-decision coming out of the U.S. Congress.

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