Durban – In the demanding world of cinema, sport and global human affairs, there are few people who get to win an Oscar, an Olympic gold medal or a Nobel peace prize – or to be welcomed home as heroes amid official pomp and ceremony.
There is far less razzmatazz and individual celebrity status in the arena of the struggle for environmental justice.
So perhaps it was not entirely unexpected that there were no mayoral balloons, ticker-tape parades or brass bands to welcome Durban activist Desmond D’Sa at King Shaka International Airport when he returned home after winning the environmental equivalent of a Nobel Prize or an Oscar.
All the same, the 56-year-old Wentworth resident was given a rousing welcome by scores of friends, family, activists and fellow residents of the South Durban industrialised area when he arrived back from the US after being named one of six winners of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize.
The prize honours grassroots environmental activists from around the world, with previous winners including the late Kenyan activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai and Ken Saro Wiwa, who was hanged by the Nigerian military junta following his campaigns against pollution of the Niger Delta by Royal Dutch Shell and other multinational oil companies.
“There are now 163 people around the world who have won this prize since it was launched 25 years ago. Some of them have been shot at, persecuted by their governments or deported because they stood for the truth – and I am glad to be a part of this group,” D’Sa told members of his welcoming party who clutched posters declaring “Des for Prez”, “Welcome home Desmond” and “We shall not be moved”.
D’Sa, who was recognised for a variety of campaigns, including toxic dumping, air pollution and climate change, said it was time to start writing a new story in South Africa and Durban, and to develop a vision in which people came before profit.
Hitting out against plans to develop a new dig-out port and further industrial infrastructure south of the city, D’Sa said: “This is not 1966 again.
“There can be no more relocation of people regardless of whether they live in tents, shacks or flats.
“First and foremost we want decent homes and sustainable jobs and a life that will protect our children and their children.”
Current plans to develop a new port, he said, amounted to “economic apartheid” and the disappearance of stable communities in areas targeted for industrialisation in the southern part of the city.
D’Sa, who won a substantial cash prize as part of the Goldman Award, has announced that some of the funds will be used to buy a larger property in Wentworth to serve as the new headquarters of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, which currently operates from cramped premises next to the John Dunn Home for the Aged in Austerville Drive.