Simon De Banya: Rest in Peace


Any one who came across the activist and campaigner Simon De Banya was struck by two prominent aspects about him. Some might event say aspects that were impossible to seat side by side, but now with De Banya: First, his gentleness.

De Banya was not the kind of activist that would scream and shout, instead his demeanor was of a warm kindness, he won people over with charm and strong reasoned argument. Yet alongside the warmth was a rare immovable steeliness that would ensure success was the only conceivable outcomes in nearly all his campaigns and activities.

That he has passed away so young with everything ahead of him is particularly cruel, but for those of us who worked with him- I got to know him well when he worked both on the Daniel De Gale campaign and The !990 Trust- we’ll feel honored that we knew and worked with a man of great integrity , a passion for racial justice and incredible warmth.

Simon Woolley


Marc Wadsworth writing in The Voice has written a fuller obituary

LEADING ACTIVIST Simon de Banya who played an important role in organising and promoting top black community campaigns has died after suffering a stroke.

He was campaign co-ordinator of the Justice for Stephen Lawrence campaign in the year leading up to the groundbreaking Macpherson public inquiry of 1998.

He also helped other families of victims of racism and organised a star-studded event to raise funds for 10-year-old leukemia suffer Daniel De-Gale who became a household name in the black community.

De Banya complained to his partner, Annie, of a head and ear ache on Sunday, December 22, at their south London home, before falling unconscious and being taken to St George’s Hospital, southwest London, where he was put on a life support machine. A week later he died, aged 53.

He was the son of an African couple and grew up in care but did not know his birth parents.

Suresh Grover, director of the Monitoring Group, for which DeBanya worked, said:

I’m absolutely shocked that someone who was so talented, caring and proud of being a black man has died so early in his life.”

He added:

Simon was the leading campaign co-ordinator for the Stephen Lawrence campaign before the Macpherson inquiry and had the confidence and was close to Doreen Lawrence.”

Grover said de Banya was a keep-fit enthusiast and they both played badminton together. But he remembered that de Banya had been forced to take three months off after suffering an infection.

Following his two-year stint with the Stephen Lawrence campaign, de Banya went on to become head of the 1990 Trust black think tank. Afterwards he became director of Lewisham’s race equality council. When he was out of work, he once complained to me that there was no community fund to support unemployed former activists like him. I couldn’t help but agree, having also fallen on hard times.

De Banya said in an interview with the Independent, headlined “Black rights hero may quit Britain”, in March 1998, he was disillusioned with a lack of campaign funding for anti-racist issues just after lining up what read like an "A-list" of black British celebrities to support the fight to save the life of Daniel de-Gale. He said he did not earn a penny for his efforts and was considering moving to the USA.

De Banya had pulled in such stars as singers Eternal and Scary Spice, footballer Ian Wright and newsreader Trevor McDonald to draw attention to the plight of Daniel de-Gale. Like most anti-racist activists, he worked for the campaign on a voluntary basis and could only make ends meet by depending on friends and relatives.

He told the paper:

I am fully committed to campaigning work, but I cannot survive on thin air alone. In America there is a lot more money around for fighting anti-racist struggles and, as I see that sort of activity as my future, I am seriously contemplating moving out there."

De Banya has also helped to mastermind the media strategy of the Stephen Lawrence family and the search for the killers of Ronald Hinkson, a 32-year-old black man stabbed to death in a north London wine bar.

If he was a publicist in the private sector, de Banya could have earned more than £40,000 a year. Instead, he devoted his time to campaigns on behalf of black families who would otherwise have struggled to get their voices heard.

De Banya was one of a handful of people to successfully push the causes of black families such as Stephen Lawrence and Daniel De-Gale in what many see as a traditionally unsympathetic mainstream media.

Most of these campaigners, said de Banya, had a lot to contend with. He said:

Campaigners can sometimes lose their jobs if an employer is unsympathetic to what they're doing. Also, most people behind struggles become targets for intimidation by far-right groups, who start sending them hate mail and making nuisance calls."

But the majority of campaigners remained undeterred, because they realised that the role they played was so important for other black people.

He told the Los Angeles Times in 1998 that on the surface, races seemed to mix more easily in Britain than across the Atlantic, but there were still racist barriers.

De Banya, who lived for several years in New York, said:

In America, racism is overt. You know how to deal with it; you can be better prepared. Here it is very covert, but very institutionalised.

The official line is that this is a multicultural country, but I think black people are more tolerated than they are integrated."