Rissik Haribhai "Barney" Desai was born on 10 April 1932 in Durban. He grew up as an Indian but was "reclassified" Coloured in 1957. His father was an accountant born in India and his mother was classified as Malay.As a teenager he visited India for a year with his father,and spent two years studying for matriculation exams in London.He and Mosie Moolla later became joint secretaries of the transvaal Indian Youth Congress.In 1952 Desai founded and briefly edited Spark,a youth publication, and the next year received his first banning order,requiring him to resign from 24 organizations.
In the late 1950s Desai moved to Cape Town,changed his name to Shabaan Desai and became legally reclassified as coloured. He succeeded James La Guma as president of South African Coloured People's Congress (SACPC) in 1961 and participated in planning for the Malmesbury Convention.Elected in 1962 to replace George Peake as city councilor for Cape Town District Six,he was prevented from taking up the position because he was a banned person.He was a member of underground Communist Party and the Western Cape regional structure of Umkhonto weSizwe .Desai was the Vice President of the South African Coloured People's Congress before leaving South Africa in the early 1960s. He settled with his family in Britain and qualified as a barrister in 1970,specializing in the defense of blacks in criminal cases.
In 1986 he moved to Zimbabwe,and began developing links with the internal PAC.On February 10,1990 Desai became one of the first prominent exiles to return to South Africa,and officially received by the mayor of Cape Town.He served thereafter as the PAC's publicity secretary and senior negotiator during the constitutional talks of the early 1990s. Following 1994 election he formally retired from politics.He was co-author of The Killing of the Imam (1978), about Abdullah Haron,and is the subject of a biography film,Born Into Struggle (2004)by his son,Rehad Desai.
Interviewed 8 January 1991, Cape Town.|Curriculum vitae submitted by Barney Desai.|Author\'s research undertaken for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa), 1992.|
Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977)|Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) http://www.jacana.co.za/component/virtuemart/?keyword=from+protest+to+ch... (last accessed 31 October 2018)