Cosmos Desmond

Well-known Durban human rights activist, former Catholic priest and author Cosmas Desmond died on Saturday aged 76.

He was born in London’s East End and was 24 when he came to SA as a Catholic priest to work on a mission station in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

In the mid-1960s, he became outspoken about the apartheid government’s resettlement of African people, starting his political activism.

Desmond travelled the country, researching the resettlement issue, and wrote the book The Discarded People in 1971, about the conditions in which resettled African people lived. Because of the book, he was banned for five years and placed under house arrest.

According to the banning order, he was not allowed to have visitors or to publish his writings. The ban was lifted in its fourth year.

In 1973, Desmond left the priesthood but remained a practising Catholic. He married and had three children. In 1977, he and his family left the country after receiving death threats and settled in London.

While there, Desmond served as the British director of Amnesty International. He remained outspoken about SA and worked for the anti-apartheid movement and the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa.

Desmond returned to SA in 1991 and stood as a PAC candidate in the 1994 elections.

However, he failed to win a seat and later worked as the director of children’s rights organisation Children First and edited its journal.

His wife, Snoeks, described Desmond as an “outspoken critic of any injustice. When he saw any wrongdoing, he spoke his mind and he did not seek favour with anyone”.

Desmond is also survived by three sons and a grandchild.

Roy Chetty, an activist for social and economic justice, expressed shock.

“He did a sterling job in the struggle for human rights, which he continued even after 1994. He had a generous spirit and contributed towards the community.

“We will miss the support he has given us and the community.”

Desmond died of Alzheimer’s disease-related complications. His funeral takes place tomorrow at Nazareth House on Mazisi Kunene Road (South Ridge Road) at 2.30pm.