Peace campaigner Millius Palayiwa believes war is never inevitable.

This positive attitude may be the legacy of his own inspiring life story.

Born one of seven in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, he is a leading academic and director of Oxford-based charity the Fellowship of Reconcilation.

Although his parents were both illiterate, his father was determined his children should be educated.

Mr Palayiwa, 64, said: “He didn’t want us to end up like him, a servant to a white man and known as a ‘kitchen boy’, even though he was older than the man he was working for.”

Missionaries funded a degree in history at the University of Rhodesia in the early 1970s.

After graduating, he took part in protests against government oppression of black people and was imprisoned for 40 days.

On the day of his release, he fled the county and was helped to study for a degree in theology in London.

Mr Palayiwa became one of the first black students at Oxford, when he did an MA in law at Oriel in the late 1970s.

He said he encountered virtually no racism within either college, but life outside was a different matter.

He explained: “In things like the jobs market, you were not looked at very favourably”.

He later passed his bar finals.

His father was killed soon after independence in 1980 and he was warned it was too dangerous to return to his homeland.

It is three-and-a-half years since he took over as director of the Fellowship, which was founded in 1914, after the First World War.

Past supporters include Gandhi and six members in its history, including Martin Luther King and Mairead Maguire, have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Mr Palayiwa’s previous roles include registrar of Christ Church College in Oxford, international relations secretary at the Religious Society of Friends and consultant at International Alert.

Another high-profile role was chief executive of the London Borough of Lambeth, which he jokingly refers to as “the Democratic Republic of Lambeth”.

He cites Parliament’s rejection of intervention in Syria last August as evidence that there is less appetite for war.

“War does not end violence and I do not believe that it is ever inevitable.

“There are good people and bad people on both sides and if you go beyond the facade and get to the heart of the person, you see humanity.

“Everybody is redeemable.”

Home is in Marston, shared with his doctor wife Eileen, who has just retired.

Will he join her soon?

“Absolutely not,” he said, “There is still much work to be done.”