|Lesotho Airways plane and government Landrover in a mountain village|
The story of Pam and Jim Moffatt, Chris's grandparents, welcoming and hosting Donald and Wendy Woods and their family in Lesotho upon their fleeing from South Africa in 1977 is referred to in the book and the film Cry Freedom.
|Jim's wallet and neck tie showing the native head dress, the Basotho 'mokorotlo', emblem of Lesotho|
Jim held the post of Acting High Commissioner in Lesotho when the family arrived, and had done for some time. He was an extremely able and affable fellow, and enjoyed a very good working and personal relationship with many of the Lesotho government.
|Thatched rondaval houses in the mountains|
Times were bad then. Apartheid was still the strong ideology of South Africa with those in power paranoid that the non-whites might have any say in the running of the country. In the 1950s, basic rights were taken from black people, as the National Party enforced racial segregation. Black people were isolated in townships and needed permits to move around for work. There were still separate modes of entry into shops, labelled Black and White. The beaches in Durban were separated according to race: Blacks, Whites, Coloureds. Hotels were used by Whites and serviced by Blacks.
Steve Biko was born in the Natal area of South Africa and whilst at the University of Natal studying medicine became disillusioned with the National Union of South African Students, mainly because a of the presence of paternalistic white liberals. He was instrumental in setting up the South African Students' Organisation which had a Black-only membership, although it certainly wasn't anti-White. It was within this context that Black Conciousness developed, an ideology aimed at destroying any idea of racial inferiority amongst Black people.
As a result of his activities to promote Black Conciousness, the South African government issued Biko with a banning order and placed him under house arrest. During this time he was frequently arrested and on the occasion of his arrest in 1977 he was so seriously injured by the police that he died.
Donald Woods, editor of the Daily Dispatch in East London, had gradually become enlightened as to the real aims of Black Conciousness and had become close to Steve Biko. Perhaps regarded as a White liberal at this point, Donald Woods began writing about the Steve Biko and the Black Conciousness ideology. This did not sit well with the Afrikaner-led government which eventually took the decision to put Donald Woods under house arrest, which also entailed stripping him of his position of editor and limiting meetings with those he needed to meet in order to proceed with his work as a journalist.
When it was intimated to him that his situation of house arrest was extremely unlikely to change, and coupled with occasional events creating danger to his family, Donald took the decision that the only way out for him and his family was to flee the country.
|Mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho from on high|
House arrest meant what it says: no movement and especially no movement out of the country. So plans were laid for an elaborate escape plan which he enacted on New Year's Eve 1977. The story is that he dressed up as a priest as he eventually neared the border to Lesotho and that he swam across the river at Maseru – although I'm not so sure as to the truth of the story of crossing the river in that way.
|Jim and Pam|
On arrival in Maseru he requested to be taken to the British High Commission, where he was greeted by Jim Moffatt. The book and the film portray him as a crusty old-style Foreign Office type, which was far from the truth, but then again his character was less than secondary to the story of Steve Biko, far more important in the story. Jim Moffatt offered hospitality 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.
Jim then handled all the diplomatic dealings with the British government and the US government, and organised for a small plane to fly the whole family to Botswana, quite an 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 Conciousness and the terrible circumstances of death of Steve Biko at 30 years old.
While the family was in Maseru, the international press visited Pam and Jim Moffatt's residence where interviews were held, and film of the family leaving the country escorted by Jim Moffatt appeared on news programmes in the UK at the time.
Jim Moffatt was awarded an OBE in 1978 but died suddenly on 29 January 1979 while still in Lesotho. His funeral was attended by a large congregation included friends and colleagues from the Lesotho government.
The Woods family kept in touch with Pam Moffatt when she returned to the UK in 1979 and she was with the family at the opening of the film Cry Freedom (directly by Richard Attenborough) in 1987, in the company of many political figures with anti-apartheid views