Category Archives: Dennis Brutus Archive

50 objects 47: Dennis Brutus’ poems on Solomon Mahlangu

Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a poet and human rights activist who grew up in South Africa. He taught in a high school until he was dismissed for activism against apartheid, and he became instrumental in the movement against racism in sport. He was imprisoned and, on release, forbidden from teaching, publishing his writings, continuing to study law, and attending political meetings.

His poems reflect his frustrations and sadness at the political environment, and are frequently concerned with the sufferings of fellow black or mixed-race people.

One poignant set of poems on this topic is In Memoriam: Solomon Mahlangu, published in 1979. Solomon Mahlangu was a South African who was hanged by the apartheid South African government in 1979 after a controversial verdict finding him guilty of murder, and despite the intervention of the UN. The deaths were caused by another man, who was not considered fit to stand trial, and Mahlangu was found guilty on the understanding that he had had a “common intent” with the other man. The booklet begins, and ends,

he went to war
and singing
he went to his death”.

The copy of this collection held at Brunel has a handwritten dedication to Brutus’ wife and children.solomon

Another published booklet of poems held in the Dennis Brutus Collection is Thoughts Abroad, by Dennis Brutus but published under the pseudonym John Bruin in order that it could be published in South Africa, where Brutus’ work was banned. This copy has been updated to attribute the work correctly and explain more about Brutus and his work.

There also handwritten poems and drafts by Dennis Brutus, and various works by other poets. The copy of Restless Leaves, a booklet of poems by Mark Espin, is dedicated to Dennis Brutus in thanks for the inspiration he provided.



End of a poem written by Dennis Brutus during a UN hearing


Further reading on Dennis Brutus:




50 objects 31: South Africa and the 1968 Olympics

This Friday, the 2016 Olympic Games open in Rio. As well as promoting excellence in sport, the Olympic movement has a much wider remit to seek friendship and fair play worldwide.  The IOC states “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Sometimes that ideal has been hard to reach. In the 1960s there were issues surrounding participation in the Olympic Games by teams from apartheid South Africa, where athletes were racially segregated and had to compete in separate trials. South Africa was banned from the 1964 Games, but controversy resurfaced concerning involvement in the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Various athletes threatened a boycott if the team from South Africa was allowed to compete, and South Africa was eventually banned from the Games and from the Olympic movement, not reinstated until 1990.

The Dennis Brutus collection held at Brunel is a valuable resource for the study of this controversy. Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a South African-born poet and human rights activist who spearheaded a successful campaign to ban apartheid South Africa from international sport competitions, including the Olympics. He was a founder of the South African Sports Association in 1961 and of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) in 1963, of which he became president. He was refused a passport and later imprisoned; other members of SANROC suffered similarly, but the organisation was revived in London in 1966, when Brutus managed to move to Britain.

Pictured are a range of documents on this topic from the Dennis Brutus collection.


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For more on Dennis Bruits and his human rights activism, see for instance



National Sporting Heritage Day

Today it’s National Sporting Heritage Day, and we’re blogging about a couple of our collections which are particularly relevant to this.

Celia Brackenridge Collection

Celia and her OBE

Celia and her OBE

Celia Brackenridge OBE is Professor Emerita at Brunel University London. She spent her academic career researching inequalities in sport with special reference to gender and children’s rights. Among other things, she established her archive to document the struggles and successes of her efforts to secure child protection and the prevention of non-accidental violence and abuse in sport.

The collection documents her various research studies on sexual abuse in sport and her advocacy journey through the formation of the Women’s Sports Foundation (1984 onwards), the NGO WomenSport International (1994 onwards), the foundation and development of the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit (2001 onwards). The collection is based on Celia’s commitment to recording not just the outcomes of research but also the process and experience of doing advocacy-based investigations.

You can find out more about the collection on our website.

Dennis Brutus Collection

Dennis Brutus was a South African human rights activist, sports campaigner against apartheid, and poet. He is perhaps best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympics in the 1960s. His collection here at Brunel includes personal and professional correspondence and a large collection of newspaper cuttings on sport and apartheid in South Africa.

Find out more about the Dennis Brutus collection on our website.

Archival adventures – my year with the Dennis Brutus collection

Blog post by Jemima Jarman, library graduate trainee 2014-15

Over the last year, I have been working at Brunel Library as a Graduate Trainee Librarian, learning about the library profession and all its related disciplines from the professionals themselves. It has truly been a rich and rewarding experience. I have been involved in the day to day running of the library, both front facing and behind the scenes and have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects.

A significant portion of my time here has been spent in Special Collections, learning the basics of archival standards, collection management and rare book preservation from Katie Flanagan. This particular aspect of the Graduate Traineeship has been especially gratifying; as I have had the opportunity of seeing a large project through from beginning to end.

When I first learnt that I was to work with an entire uncatalogued collection and was to be trusted with creating detailed finding aids and descriptions, I felt a little overwhelmed and totally unqualified to do so! I didn’t even know where to start, and in the early stages I had to re-start several times. Katie was encouraging, helpful and supportive. She provided me with all the guidance I needed while also giving me the chance to work independently, to experiment and figure things out for myself. Having the opportunity to work in this way meant that once the project was complete, I felt more of a genuine sense of achievement.

The collection I was allocated to work on was that of Dennis Brutus, a South African human rights activist, sports campaigner against apartheid, and poet. I have to be honest; I didn’t feel an initial spark of interest when first looking through the materials. I have no interest in sport (rollerderby excepted) and I saw A LOT of cuttings from the sport pages of newspapers and information on the Olympics in the 70’s etc.

My mind soon changed however, the more I saw of the materials and the more I got to know about Dennis Brutus’ life, work, and passions. He was a fascinating man who never seemed to tire of pioneering and accomplishing incredible things. I learnt a lot about the social history and politics of South Africa, about the extent to which racial segregation pervaded every aspect of life for its citizens and the real dangers faced for those who fought to change it.

My experiences of working with the Dennis Brutus collection have been really positive. I have learnt a lot about the nature of special collections which will aid me professionally as I pursue a career in librarianship and academically, as a researcher. Collections which look like they may be of no interest or relevance can house so many hidden treasures. It is our job as librarians and archivists to raise awareness and draw attention to how broad the scope and relevance of these collections can be; and when conducting research ourselves, to keep open minded as to where potential sources may be found.

The Dennis Brutus collection-level description and finding aids are now on their way to be being published on ArchivesHub; and as I prepare to leave Brunel Library, it is my hope that this fascinating collection will be well used by future students in the years to come. The collection finding aid, and a finding aid arranged by subject are available on the collection webpage.

Nelson Mandela

Bookmark Daily

27th January, 1971…

Dear Miss Goolagong,

It has been reported that you are considering going to South Africa and it is on this matter that I have been instructed to write to you. You have already achieved a splendid reputation as a tennis player, and we wish you even greater successes in the future…

You cannot be unaware, however, that the structure of South African tennis is racialist, and that thousands of non-white South Africans, natives of the country, are excluded from the ‘national’ body which has invited you and they will be denied participation in the ‘national’ events in which you take part…

This letter to Aboriginal superstar of 1970s tennis, Evonne Goolagong, was written by Dennis Brutus (1924 – 2009). Brutus was a South African of African and European ancestry.  A poet, academic and anti-apartheid campaigner, he was one of the founders of SAN-ROC, (South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee.)…

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One World Week displays

As part of One World Week on the campus we have a couple of Special Collections displays in the library.

BICMEM display 5

On the ground floor are copies of items from the BICMEM collection. The Brunel Institute for Contemporary Middle Eastern Music, the first of its kind in the world, is a library of scores, manuscripts and recordings, a database of Middle Eastern composers and musicians, and a research centre. The scores, manuscripts and recordings are housed in Special Collections.

In the Research Commons there is a small display from the Dennis Brutus Archive. Dennis Brutus was a Black South African who was a teacher, poet and anti-apartheid campaigner. While he was a teacher he realised that Black sportsmen were not granted the recognition they deserved, and he became a co-founder of the South African Sports Association in 1959. He then went on to help start SAN-ROC, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee. Brutus was later exiled from South Africa, and moved to Britain and then the USA, where he became Professor of African Literature at Pittsburgh University.

Dennis Brutus

We have a small archive about Dennis Brutus in our Special Collections. It is mainly concerned with his SAN-ROC activities, and his political actions, and holds material such as newspaper clippings and letters.

Some of the items in the One World Week display tell a harrowing story; his application for a visa to South Africa states that he had six convictions under the apartheid laws. There are airmail letters to his wife, written when she was in England and he was in America, with stamps showing Martin Luther King Jr. We have his birth certificate, stating that his mother was “Cape coloured,” and his South African departure permit, with his photograph showing a calm and determined man.

This display will be in the Research Commons until the end of this term. You are welcome to come and discover more about this iconic figure.

MLK stamps