Donald Woods was a South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist. As editor of the Daily Dispatch, he was outspoken against apartheid policies and led protests against the killing of his friend Steve Biko, who was killed by police after being detained by the South African government.
Soon after Biko’s death in 1977, Woods was himself placed under a five-year ban. He was stripped of his editorship, and was not allowed to speak publicly, write, travel or work for the duration of his ban. He and his family were subjected to increasing attacks and harassment and were forced to flee from South Africa to London. Woods continued his campaign against apartheid in London but faced many constraints to his work.
Campaign of intimidation and fear
Woods is just one of the many journalists and advocates who were silenced and threatened for speaking out against the Apartheid in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
The Apartheid in South Africa was the racial segregation under the all-white government of South Africa which dictated that non-white South Africans (a majority of the population) were required to live in separate areas from whites and use separate public facilities, and contact between the two groups would be limited.
Apartheid sparked significant internal resistance which was met with police brutality, arrests and killings forcing many journalists and advocates to flee for their safety.
The fight against Apartheid
Trócaire was one of the first Irish NGOs to become involved in the struggle against the Apartheid system in South Africa. As well as campaigning on the national and international stage, Trócaire funded grass roots projects for schools, youth organisations and trade unions. It also raised awareness of injustices in South Africa by bringing prominent speakers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Donald Woods to Ireland.
1977, Woods reached out to Trócaire and asked for help in buying a typewriter to document the struggles of the anti-Apartheid movement and to tell his friend Steve Biko’s story. With a small grant from Trócaire, Woods was able to restart his work and wrote “Cry Freedom” which became a best-seller and was turned into a film by academy-award winner Richard Attenborough.
In January 1988, Trócaire sponsored the Irish film premiere of Cry Freedom, which was attended by Woods and Attenborough, will all proceeds going to Trócaire.
“You were with us in the dark days of the struggle,” Woods said of Trócaire.
“Now you continue to support us in redressing the injustices that remain after apartheid; we are grateful for Trócaire support in training the new African journalists that are essential for the continuation of the present transition process and for the future development of a healthy civil society in our new democracy.”