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Poet, anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus dies

NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — South African poet and former political prisoner Dennis Brutus, who fought apartheid in words and deeds and remained an activist well after the fall of his country's racist system, has died. He was 85.

Brutus' publisher, Chicago-based Haymarket Books, said the writer died in his sleep at his home in Cape Town on Saturday.

Brutus was an anti-apartheid activist jailed at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in the mid-1960s. His activism led Olympic officials to ban South Africa from competition from 1964 until apartheid ended nearly 30 years later.

Born in 1924 in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Brutus was the son of South Africans who moved back to their native country when he was still a boy. He majored in English at Fort Hare University, which he attended on full scholarship. By his early 20s, he was politically involved and helped create the South African Sports Association, formed in protest against the official white sports association.

Brutus was banned from South Africa in 1961, fled to Mozambique, but was deported back to South Africa and nearly murdered when shot as he attempted to escape police custody and forced to wait for an ambulance that would accept blacks. His poetry collections "Sirens, Knuckles and Boots" and "Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison" were published while he was in jail.

Exiled from South Africa in 1966, Brutus later moved to the United States and taught literature and African studies at Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh, a distinctive figure in old age with his flowing white hair and beard, engaged in protests against world financial organizations and in calls for stronger action against global warming.

Over the years, he completed more than a dozen collections of poetry, including "A Simple Lust," ''Stubborn Hope" and "Salutes and Censures." In 2006, Haymarket published a compilation of his work, "Poetry and Protest."

He received numerous honorary prizes, including a lifetime achievement award from South Africa's Department of Arts and Culture. But in 2007 he rejected induction into the South Africa Sports Hall of Fame, stating, "It is incompatible to have those who championed racist sport alongside its genuine victims. It's time — indeed long past time — for sports truth, apologies and reconciliation."

He is survived by a wife, eight children and many other relatives.

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