the Surrey countryside
DONALD WOODS has been living in exile in Britain since fleeing his native South Africa in 1978 disguised as a priest. The tale of his escape across the border with Lesotho — crossing swollen rivers, bluffing his way through the border checkpoints — reads somewhat like a work of fiction.
However, Donald Woods and his family were escaping a very real danger. He had been served with an extra-judicial banning order in 1977, confining him to his home and to the company of no more than one person at a time.
His crime was to publish details of the killing white in police custody of the blackconsciousness leader, Steve Bike, in the East London newspaper he edited, The Daily Dispatch.
Donald Woods now lives in the relative calm of Surrey with his family, and in his own
words runs a "counterpropaganda" campaign to
force the western governments to express "a greater degree of outrage than is being conveyed now" at the apartheid system in South Africa.
To this end he publishes a quarterly bulletin, The Lincoln Letter, which is sent to every
MP and American Congressman, and he is Director of the Linioin Trust which includes among its support committee Michael Foot, Denis Healey, Mrs Coretta Scott King, Walter Mondale, Shirley Williams and Senator Kennedy.
Donald Woods is a great admirer of Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, but as a Catholic he felt that "generally speaking the Church's performance in South Africa has been pretty bad". For too long priests have kept quiet about the abuses of apartheid.
Their silence was all the more surprisfng to Mr Woods
as he considers that apart held
breaks all ten of the commandments. What could
be a stranger god to worship, he asked, than the notion that a whole system can be based on skin colour. Equally the commandment to honour one's father and mother is challenged by South Africa's pass laws which Mr Woods estimated had broken up at least 25 per cent of black families.
He described the keeping of the Sabbath as the "toughest" commandment of all to bring into his analogy, but noted that "you cannot be said to be
keeping the Sabbath if you are actually forbidding certain people from common worship because of their skin colour". Congregations in South Africa are racially segregated.
"People don't realise what an anti-Catholic government this is in South Africa", Mr Woods commented. The Government have made it difficult for Catholic schools to function, and for priests and nuns to enter or leave the country.
This is a crucial factor to be taken into account when considering the recent meeting between Pope John Paul and Mr Botha, the South African Prime Minister, Donald Woods said. If the Catholic hierarchy had opposed the visit they would have been labelled "enemies of the state" and subjected to further government pressure.
However, in spite of this qualification, Donald Woods thought that on balance it was a bad thing for the Pope to receive the South African Prime Minister. The meeting represented a "blow to the morale of black Catholics" in South Africa. Blacks make Lp 90 per cent of the Catholic church there.
Much more destructive from Mr Woods point of view though was Mr Botha's meeting with Mrs Thatcher. "A head of state sends out all sorts of political messages by such an action", he said. Blacks have "so few weapons" in the fight against apartheid except the idea that "the world is said to disapprove of apartheid".
This idea has now been "devalued" by the meeting at Chequers.
The largely state-controlled South African media have presented the visit as a great triumph of acceptibility for the regime, Mr Woods reported, and the anti-apartheid demonstration which took place in London to mark the visit has been dismissed in the papers as a "rent-a-crowd" protest by left-wing students.
The idea that conditions in either political or economic terms have got better for blacks in South Africa under Mr Botha was dismissed by Mr Woods.
On the contrary, they had become "considerably worse". He described the recent referendum on proposals to set up a tri-cameral legislature with houses for coloureds and Indians, but not for the country's 18 million blacks, as "a bid to polarise and to divide various shades of skin colour".
Pass law fines had trebled, and there had been a massive stepping up of the forcible relocation of blacks in the socalled "homelands" which represent about 13 per cent of the land mass of South Africa. , As to the economic condition of blacks in South Africa, Donald Woods referred to a recent survey on poverty carried out by the Carnegie Foundation which he has published in the latest Lincoln Letter.
It shows that one third of black children under 14 are underweight or stunted in growth; at least 1.43 million blacks in the homelands have no income at all. The 400 researchers employed by Carnegie also found that the infant mortality rate among blacks is 31 times higher than among whites. Education for blacks is so poor that in some areas of the Cape province it was found that 40 per cent of the people had never been to school, whilst in another area 60 per cent of the teaching staff had no qualifications at all.
The 1982-83 figures for government spending on education are quoted. Some $913 was spent on the education on each white child, compared with $140 for black children. So much for the myth of South Africa providing blacks with one of the highest standards of living in Africa.
These facts are lost on most white South Africans because they seldom reach them, Mr Woods commented. "They (the white South Africans) are the most brainwashed people outside of the Iron Curtain", he said, and went on to make reference to the strict censorship of the South African media. Details of the guerrilla activities of the African National Congress are suppressed, while events such as the meeting in Rome of the Pope and Mr Botha are presented as the true face of South African acceptibility.
Mr Woods likened being a foreign correspondant in Sofith Africa to being a reporter in the Sovie..t Union. "You can cover certain trunk news, but no way can you take a weekend trip into Siberia to look for yourself".
This censorship of the media has two purposes, he thought.
The first was to reassure white opinion in South Africa, and the second was to avoid discouraging overseas investment. However, Mr Woods estimated that South Africa was "in the initial stages of a low intensity guerrilla war".
Turning to .what western opinion could do to halt that war and improve the conditions of blacks in South Africa, Mr Woods urged that people "bring pressure on their representatives" to convey a greater sense of outrage than is being expressed now.
"Words alone are useless", he commented, and coiled on the free world "to declare non violent war on South Africa — that is to cut off trade', investment and diplomatic recognition until the majority are given civil rights".
He refused to be drawn as to the future duration of apartheid if such a course were adopted, but said that "it wouldn't surprise me to read tomorrow that the great flare up is taking place". Donald Woods described himself as "tending to the
conservative" in his views. His involvemcni in the fight against apartheid is aimed at making the struggle a "middle:, of-the-road" campaign. He felt that for too long antiapartheid campaigners had' been depicted as a handful of radical extremists — a view the South African government shares.
The wide cross-section of society which took part in the demonstration in London to mark Mr Botha's • visit is evidence that Donald Woods campaign is having its effect; that South Africa has failed to silence this, one of its most effective and persuasive critics.