Unearthing more South African links in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 14:42 29 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:42 29 December 2017

Andrew Stone (Picture: Sonya Duncan)

Andrew Stone (Picture: Sonya Duncan)


I continue to unearth some surprising connections to South Africa here in Norfolk.

In one of the latest, Chris Moffatt, co-owner of Houseboat Heather in Hoveton and Wroxham, told me of his link to a former editor of a newspaper I worked for. Based in the city of East London on the east coast of South Africa, the Daily Dispatch has a long history of covering regional issues in Eastern Cape.

The paper has amassed an impressive collection of journalism awards. Its most famous son is former editor and anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods. The story of Mr Woods and the friendship he built with Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko in the 1970s is told in the film Cry Freedom.

Following Mr Biko’s death at the hands of security police in 1977, Mr Woods was placed under a five-year ban and stripped of the editorship. He was not allowed to speak in public, travel, write or work for the length of his ban and was harassed by security police.

After his daughter was burned by a T-shirt laced with ninhydrin, he fled South Africa for Lesotho on New Year’s Eve in 1977 disguised as an Anglican priest.

It was here that he came across Chris Moffatt’s grandparents, Jim and Pam Moffatt.

“Jim held the post of Acting High Commissioner in Lesotho when the family arrived,” says Chris. “He was an extremely able and affable fellow, and enjoyed a very good working and personal relationship with many in the Lesotho government.

“Jim offered hospitality to Donald Woods at the Moffatt home, and subsequently hosted the rest of the family who arrived within days: Wendy, Donald’s wife, the four children and Wendy’s brother.”

Chris says his grandfather handled diplomatic dealings with the British and US governments and organised for a small plane to fly the family to Botswana.

“This was quite a delicate journey since Lesotho is an enclave within South Africa, so the plane had to fly over South Africa in order to get to Botswana.

“From there the family flew to London to start a new life, although they continued their close interest in spreading information about Black Consciousness and Steve Biko.”

Jim was made an OBE in 1978 but died suddenly in 1979 while still in Lesotho. “The Woods family kept in touch with Pam Moffatt when she returned to the UK in 1979,” says Chris. Donald Woods was made a CBE in 2000 and died in 2001.

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