[Debate] (Fwd) Cosmos Desmond obit in the Telegraph
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat Apr 7 22:02:32 BST 2012
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Saturday 07 April 2012
*Cosmas Desmond, who has died aged 76, travelled from London to South
Africa as a Franciscan missionary and became the first foreigner to
document the misery of millions of blacks uprooted and dumped far from
their homes during apartheid resettlement programmes. *
Description: osmas Desmond
6:12PM BST 06 Apr 2012
Desmond was just 24 when he arrived in South Africa in 1960. Posted to a
rural mission in Natal Province, he soon met people who had been forced
to leave their homes and live in remote areas as the white South African
government implemented plans to create 10 small, independent states,
known as bantustans, for black people.
He recorded the misery that the policy inflicted in a book, The
Discarded People (1970), which was published by an activist Church
group, the Christian Institute, and went on to write a moving report on
forced removals for The Sunday Telegraph. The article, headlined "Black
exiles in the veld", was followed by a secretly recorded Granada
Television documentary, which Desmond helped to produce.
His description of the "homelands", as the areas were also known, was
unsparing. Here, he wrote, were the "dumping grounds for old people,
women and children and the disabled whose labour is not needed for the
white South African economy". People who were already poor were removed
from their smallholdings and villages, and further impoverished by being
left in areas with few resources, schools or hospitals.
As Desmond's eyewitness accounts began to reach the outside world, the
South African government moved to silence him. In 1971 he was subject to
a five-year "banning" order that restricted his movement and meant that
he was unable to be in a room with more than one other person, or be
quoted in news articles. He was also placed under house arrest -- which
made it impossible for him to attend Mass.
Patrick Anthony Desmond was born in Stepney, east London, on November 19
1935, the fifth of nine children in a Catholic family . His father
worked for Stepney Council as a fumigator.
At 11 Patrick won a scholarship to Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in
Holland Park and went on to become a novice at St Mary's Friary in East
Bergholt. He left for South Africa immediately after being ordained.
There he saw the implementation of the Group Areas Act which, over the
following 20 years, would mandate the removal of more than 3.5 million
black people from their homes in an attempt to enforce racial
segregation. It was a time when blacks were subject to widespread
prosecution for being in areas -- usually seeking work -- outside their
prescribed "homeland". Black South Africans had to carry a pass at all
times, a measure which sparked some of the first mass anti-government
demonstrations, as well as trials of activists including Nelson Mandela.
Desmond moved from rural Natal to Johannesburg in 1969 to publicise the
removals, and made many friends in the early 1970s among young black
militants, particularly those in the Black Consciousness Movement such
as Steve Biko, who eventually died in detention in 1977.
During Desmond's house arrest Horst Kleinschmidt, a white activist,
moved with his wife into Desmond's home, dividing it so that,
technically, Desmond could claim to be alone and not break the rules
governing his detention. Kleinschmidt recalled that Desmond was
particularly angry at not being allowed to attend Mass and, one Sunday,
he smuggled the priest to church in the boot of his car. Once there
Desmond defiantly preached his sermon.
Over the years -- and despite constant police surveillance -- Desmond
began to help people leave the country to join the banned African
National Congress in exile. But he was increasingly frustrated by the
attitude of some in the Catholic Church whom he believed did not oppose
forced removals with enough vigour. He resigned from the priesthood in
1973, but remained committed to his faith and was known by his
Franciscan name, Cosmas, for the rest of his life.
After leaving the Church he married a human-rights activist and, when
his friend and fellow anti-apartheid activist Rick Turner was shot dead
outside his home in Durban in 1978, Desmond took his own family to
London, where he joined the British arm of Amnesty International. He
returned to South Africa in 1991 after the ANC was legalised and Mandela
was released from prison. But he soon fell out with the ANC too,
criticising it before democratic elections in 1994 for failing to demand
full-scale land redistribution, and then afterwards, once it was in
power, for its failures to deliver social services to those left
destitute by apartheid.
At the end of his life Cosmas Desmond was the director of a children's
organisation, Children First, and edited its journals.
He is survived by his wife, Snoeks, and three sons.
*Cosmas Desmond, born November 19 1935, died March 31 2012 *
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