Tributes for anti-apartheid hero Donald Woods

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The Independent Online

They were of all ages, races and nationalities, and they turned up on Tuesday in their hundreds to pay their last respects to Donald Woods, journalist and fighter against apartheid and injustice.

Among these mourners were the family of Steve Biko, the young leader of the Black Consciousness Movement murdered in a police cell, and Lord Attenborough, whose acclaimed film Cry Freedom told the story of Mr Biko's friendship with Mr Woods in their native South Africa.

The service was held in an afternoon of bright sunshine at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, just a stone's throw from South Africa House. The high commission had once been the outpost of the apartheid regime where Mr Woods was routinely vilified. Yesterday, the diplomats, led by Cheryl Carolus, the high commissioner, came with their tributes to a hero of the new South Africa.

Also there was Peter Hain. The Foreign Office minister had first come into the public eye as an anti-apartheid campaigner in his student days and became close to Mr Woods.

Mr Woods died on 19 August after suffering from cancer for two years. There will be a private cremation ceremony today with family and friends present. The ashes will be taken for burial to his home town of East London, in the Eastern Cape.

Mr Woods and his family had left their homeland secretly in 1977, just a step ahead of South Africa's secret police. His campaign to expose how Mr Biko was beaten and tortured to death had led to unremitting hostility from the National Party government and death threats against his children.

Yesterday, Mr Biko's son, Nkosinathi, and his widow, Nsiki, said they wanted "to salute a truly remarkable person". Mr Biko said: "We have come to hold hands with Donald's wife, Wendy, and their children in the hope that the life Donald led so selflessly will become a source of courage."

Lord Attenborough said in his tribute: "The world, I believe, needs heroes now more than ever and Donald stands amongst the giants in my own personal pantheon on his infinite grace, his self-deprecation and unselfishness and his courage.

"He will always embody the ordinary men who, when it most matters, is prepared to stand up and be counted."

Mr Woods's son, Dillon, spoke of his father's courage and of his joy at becoming a grandfather. He said he was a "completely lovely" father.

Mr Woods's daughters, Jane and Mary, read a passage their mother had written about the many aspects of life with her husband that she missed since his death. "It has been exciting to have been a part of what he made happen and what happened to him," she wrote.