The cutting edge in the world movement to isolate South Africa from international competition is an organization known as SAN-ROC (South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee). SAN-ROC has its offices in London, but its president and attacking genius is a Northwestern University professor named Dennis Brutus, a man who was very much in evidence at the Games. Wherever South Africa encounters difficulty in sports, the sharp-tongued Brutus can be found, as ubiquitous as he is confident. Lobbyist? "A fair enough term," he agrees.
At 51, slight and physically unimposing, Brutus has long wavy hair and eyes that burn; he has some of the qualities of an Old Testament prophet and, for the most part, no more tolerance. "Watch it! Watch it!" he snaps at those who dare offer facts he dislikes. Dennis Brutus does not suffer fools, unless they can provide SAN-ROC with space in the morning editions. But then, few have lived and endured a cause as this man has.
He grew up in South Africa as a "Cape Colored." He managed to obtain a missionary-school education, and then, from 1948 until 1961, worked what mischief he could against the apartheid government before finally being "banned"—classed as a non-person. Shortly thereafter he was arrested at an otherwise all-white South African Olympic Committee meeting "by two members of the secret police who actually came out of a cupboard in the wall." Brutus served time in six prisons, eventually finding his way to America. Today he lives in the Chicago suburbs, teaches African literature and creative writing and works at his own poetry.
SAN-ROC and Brutus first got South Africa bumped out of the Olympics, then Rhodesia. "Avery Brundage told me, 'The matter is closed because I say it is closed.' Well, at Munich we took him on and we licked him," Brutus says. "He was a broken man after that." Last Friday SAN-ROC achieved another substantial victory when South Africa was drummed out of FIBA, the international soccer federation. Brutus' campaigns against New Zealand, for competing promiscuously against South African teams, have produced fully expectable results. A score of nations quit Montreal, but all save Iraq and Guyana were a part of the African continent.
The inability of SAN-ROC to generate anything but everyday bloc support suggests that political protest against South Africa may have reached its limits. The same nations that will condemn South Africa (and Rhodesia) for obvious domestic injustices will not risk their athletes or the Olympics over an issue so blurred and emotional as finding a country like New Zealand guilty by association. Boycott New Zealand for consorting with South Africa? Why not the U.S., why not Britain, why not Canada, which just happened to be entertaining a South African cricket team in Toronto last week. Well, Brutus argues, New Zealand plays South Africa more; its government appears to tacitly approve. "It's an enormously complicated world," he says. "We can't fight all our battles at the same time." Perhaps, but many nations do not seem willing to accept proportional or expedient ethics, either. Moreover, the black African countries are themselves vulnerable to charges of abetting inhumane governments. New Zealand may be racially insensitive, but black Africa continues to offer support to the dreadful racist Big Daddy Amin, clown-despot of Uganda—presumably just because he is black. "Please," Brutus says in some distress, "let me abstain on that."
Brutus has always been an active sportsman, and he professes to want the Games free of political influence. "But it is the first article of the Olympic charter that discrimination cannot be permitted," he asserts. "Discrimination is the only issue."
Alas, each committed man's issue is the only one. The anti-New Zealand boycott floundered largely because another political dust-up, the Taiwan affair, wouldn't get off the front pages. In effect, every tawdry political distraction to international sport now enters through the door that Brutus and SAN-ROC first cracked open in the name of justice. In Montreal there was the very real concern that sport and its youthful athletic pawns were being damaged a great deal more than South Africa.
Dennis Brutus: "Discrimination is the only issue."