Cape Town-130520-Wendy Woods, wife of Donald Woods. Picture Supplied.
Cape Town-130520-Wendy Woods, wife of Donald Woods. Picture Supplied.

Social activist Wendy Woods dies

By Time of article published May 21, 2013

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Staff Writer

Wendy Woods, a music teacher, social activist, charity campaigner, journalist and wife of Daily Dispatch editor Donald Woods, has died in Surrey, England, aged 72.

Almost six years ago, as trustee of the Mandela Statue Fund, Woods unveiled a 2.7m statue of Nelson Mandela with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Parliament Square, London. Mandela was the guest of honour at the event, a seven-year project initiated by her husband prior to his death in 2001.

In the Eastern Cape during the 1970s, the Woods family survived years of phone bugging, death threats, harassment and surveillance by the apartheid-era security police, culminating in Woods being banned.

While Wendy went away to attend the inquest into Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko’s death, their five-year-old daughter Mary received a T-shirt, which the security police had laced with acid-powder. Mary’s acid-burn marks on her face and arms remained for three weeks.

This incident forced the family to flee into exile in December 1977. A number of people were integral in the family’s escape via Lesotho, Botswana and Zambia with Donald disguised as a priest. This story is told in Richard Attenborough’s film Cry Freedom with Denzel Washington playing Biko, Kevin Kline as Donald and Penelope Wilton as Wendy.

Born in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, Wendy met Donald in Cwebe, Mbashe where both their families had seaside cottages.

They married in 1962.

According to her son Dillon, during his mother’s 10-year term as chair of the Donald Woods Foundation, the foundation built 13 clinics, carried out 150 000 HIV tests, screened 75 000 people for TB, built a training centre, conducted 70 training camps and workshops for over 1 000 people working in health and education.

They ran various programmes for home-based/palliative care, orphans and vulnerable children and schools and initiated the new “Health in Every Hut” programme, aimed at visiting and screening around 300 000 rural people in the Eastern Cape.

In a recent letter to Wendy, British politician Peter Hain, himself a South African by birth and a campaigner against apartheid in sport, reflected on the family’s harassment and escape into exile: “You should be eternally proud of how you managed… the process of dislocation and adjustment during what must have been some dark times.”

Wendy is survived by five children, her brother, Peter Bruce and nine grandchildren.

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