Human rights activist and academic Professor Frances Ames has died aged 82 after a long battle against leukaemia.

But it was the battle she won - the one against medical injustice following the police murder in September 1977 of black freedom fighter Steve Biko - that was to win her eternal fame and recipient at the hands of Nelson Mandela of the Star of Africa, South Africa's highest civilian award.

Almost single-handedly, she took on the South African medical establishment and forced its members to re-open the Biko case after having initially gone along with the findings of three doctors that 31-year-old Biko had died naked in a prison cell either because he accidentally hit his head against a wall or suffered the results of a self-imposed hunger strike.

Reflecting on the episode towards the end of her long, courageous, and creative life, Frances Ames said that she eternally regretted having gone along with the findings of her male colleagues and kow-towing to the political establishment in Pretoria.

But it was Frances Ames who later led a group of doctors to challenge the medical establishment. At a subsequent hearing of the Truth and

Reconciliation Commissionafter the ANC came to power in 1994, the doctors who had been originally exonerated were publicly disgraced.

The victory laurels were not easily won and it was only after an appeal to the Supreme Court that the Biko inquiry was re-opened in 1985, eight years after his death. Biko died in detention on September 12, 1977, following a spate of other prison deaths. Many were attributed to suicide. Biko's advocacy of black pride and self-respect influenced hundreds of thousands of blacks before and after the famous Soweto uprising in June 1976. He had been kept in a police cell, naked, for almost three weeks, interrogated ruthlessly, beaten, and finally driven from one side of South Africa in a police van. When he got to Pretoria he could hardly speak. The police said he was shamming. After his death, Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger infamously commented: ''The death of Steve Biko leaves me cold.''

The doctors who examined the dead man said that

no foul play by the police

was suspected.

Later and after much soul-searching, Ames and four

other doctors demanded a

full inquiry and an unequivocal statement from the medical profession's ethical body about the duty of doctors to their patients.

At one stage, the British Medical Association made

suggestions that South African medical qualifications would not be recognised in Britain unless this pressing matter was resolved.

Frances Ames was born in Pretoria. After a difficult childhood - her father deserted the family - she went on to excel as a medical academic ending her long and distinguished career as head and professor of the Neurology Department of the University of Cape Town.

At a remembrance service at Valkenberg Hospital, Professor Brian Robertson, the head of psychiatry at UCT, said her leadership in the human rights areas had been ''a beacon of hope to everyone. She was an outstanding teacher of neurology and as a person both caring and warm''.

Frances Rix Ames, doctor

and human rights activist;

born April 20, 1920, died November 11, 2002.