[Debate] (Fwd) David Hemson remembers Cos
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Tue Apr 3 08:20:52 BST 2012
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Subject: Cos Desmond: my reflection
Date: Mon, 2 Apr 2012 18:51:22 -0400
From: David Hemson <dhemson at gmail.com>
A reflection. At a previous birthday we celebrated at Lynn's I spoke
to Cos and said he must record what he could about his life experience
in writing the Discarded People and everything else about himself. I
reminded him that after the film audition of LAST GRAVE IN DIMBAZA in
1973 shown in the lecture theatre between MTB and Howard College
building I remembered discussing the crimes we witnessed in the film
with Halton Cheadle now Law Professor at UCT. He insisted that a
Nuremburg Trial would have to be held in the post-apartheid era. Cos
laughed wryly at the idea of an autobiography and gave me a maybe…he
might just turn his mind to chronicling his work but he wasn't so sure
of its significance. Was his life and contribution really so
Cos was rewarded but also diminished by the ending of apartheid. The
reward was the freeing of our people from the bondage of apartheid,
but he was diminished by the trivialization of great work of
resistance in words and deeds and the careless dealing with crimes
against humanity. His DISCARDED PEOPLE chronicled the dumping of
people wrongly located in the plan of apartheid and "surplus" to the
needs of capitalism in remote areas without houses, food and support.
The concluding scene in the LAST GRAVE IN DIMBAZA is of row after row
of the graves of children who died after this dumping. These were the
results of crimes against humanity.
To my knowledge none of the bureaucrats of death were named and
shamed. Now Dimbaza is a township on far-flung hills some 66km outside
of East London. This name and even that of LImehill has lost its
sting. South Africa has grown and these areas are now integrated into
the road system and have their local municipalities. The memory fades.
What was all the fuss about?
This diminution of these historic crimes at the political-social level
and the slow pace of genuine transformation had its effect on Cos, his
work and his feeling of self-worth. He had often had to stand alone
not only by the action of the regime but also by the priests in the
Bantustans who found his research inconvenient and irritating and the
shying away of the Catholic Church (with the notable exception of
Archbishop Hurley). His friendship with members of Black Consciousness
(he enjoyed ready open respect of Steve Biko and other BC leaders) did
not serve favour with the Congress Movement and the ANC. In the New
South Africa he was further diminished along with the lighter
weighting of the crimes he chronicled.
Cos never stood on his dignity or pronounced on his worth. His
references to himself were often diffident, self deprecatory and
ironic. Recently I was intrigued to hear that Van Gogh wrote that he
knew he was regarded by society as a non-entity, an eccentric and a
curiosity. He responded, “All right, then ….I should one day like to
show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his
heart." This was not quite Cos who was loved and held in high regard
by the circle he cared for but there is a certain line in parallel.
Cos showed what was in his heart, and he criticized the compromises
and social degradation in the country of his adoption as only one who
loved it so deeply would do. His work and life showed what he had in
his heart; and for this he has our love and respect. History will
revise judgment of our friend and comrade.
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