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#amaQhawe: Desmond D'Sa - How Apartheid's brutality ignited a quest for social justice

Desmond D'Sa meeting his grandchild Callia Perkett with Goldman Environmental Prize award at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport in 2014.

Picture by: S'bonelo Ngcobo

Desmond D'Sa meeting his grandchild Callia Perkett with Goldman Environmental Prize award at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport in 2014. Picture by: S'bonelo Ngcobo

Published Apr 27, 2018


When most South Africans see Desmond D’Sa, he's often on their television screens or in a newspaper leading a protest, sometimes against giant oil and gas corporations that spew toxic fumes into poor communities or companies wanting to frack in the picturesque Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal.

At other times, D’Sa is seen leading a protest against draconian media laws or the squalid living conditions of shack dwellers or fighting for improvements to the crumbling government-built flats dotted around Durban.

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Often he is seen on the frontlines trying to quell the ongoing gang war tearing apart his community in Wentworth, South of Durban.

Read: #amaQhawe: Swaminathan Gounden - A lifetime of sacrifice

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#amaQhawe: Akkie Qono - From defiance to democracy

For many, D’Sa is the face of environmental and social justice and often the voice of poor communities across Durban.

His work has earned him international recognition and in 2014 he was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize - the environmental equivalent of a Nobel Prize or an Oscar.

In 2015, D’Sa was conferred an Honorary Doctorate by the Durban University of Technology as a leading advocate and spokesman for social and environmental justice.While some may bask in the glory of the accolades and the achievements and think that their work is done, D’Sa is unrelenting in his David verse Goliath fight for the voiceless.

He is often asked why he still does it? Why, despite achieving so much, does he still bangs on the gates of big corporates or at the doors of government officials demanding justice?

It’s because in 1966 at the age of 10 he witnessed the brutality of Apartheid when the government uprooted his family from their home in Cator Manor under Forced Removals and “dumped” them in Wentworth.

“It was devastating,” D’Sa said.

“When we lived in Cato Manor, there were no white people or black people, Muslims, Hindus or Christians. We were just people and we were a community. We intermingled and we intermarried. That was just the way it was. Then Apartheid came and told us we were different. That was the first time I felt injustice,” he said.

He still does it because when his family - consisting of his mother, father and 12 siblings - were dumped in Wentworth in a cramped two-bedroom tenement flat there were no playgrounds for children.Years later he would, through his activism, help build six playgrounds for the community’s children.

He still does it because he witnessed first-hand people get sick and die because they were“dumped”  on the doorstep of an oil refinery.

He still does it because 24 years after democracy people still live in abject poverty, they still live in shacks, cramped tenement flats and at the doorsteps of chemical and oil companies.

“Democracy has been wonderful and has brought much good in our society. But sadly it has not benefited all of our people. I will continue to do this until there is justice and equality for all,” D’Sa said.

This is not the last time you will see D’Sa on your screen or newspaper.


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