South Africa: Were The Cradock Four Sacrificed at Altar of Democracy in South Africa?

South African Flag (file photo).
22 September 2021

Cape Town — June 27, 1985. The day that changed the lives of four families forever – a day that robbed Nomonde Calata, Nyameka Goniwe, Sindiswa Mkhonto and Nombuyiselo Mhlauli of their husbands – men who were fathers, brothers, and friends. It is on this day that Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli would pay the ultimate price at the hands of the a partheid government's security forces. Putting into action a directive taken at parliament to remove Goniwe and Calata from society. A plan put forward by Barend Du Plessis, who later became South Africa's finance minister.

Who Were the Cradock Four?

Goniwe, Calata and Mhlauli were educators, while Mkhonto worked for the South African railways. Goniwe was a vice principal transferred from Graaf Reinet, another small Eastern Cape town, to the same school in Cradock where Calata was a teacher. The two soon became firm friends, drawn by the same political ideals. They also befriended Sicelo Mhlauli a school principal in Oudtshoorn, a town famous worldwide for its ostrich feathers. Mhlauli was visiting Cradock at the time.

The four attended a meeting in Port Elizabeth and on the night of June 27, 1985, while travelling back to Cradock, where they - according to the testimony heard at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997- were taken to an unknown destination, assaulted, killed, and their bodies and vehicle set alight.

South Africans, particularly Black South Africans across the country, mourned and protested at the murder of the Cradock Four. The speculation grew on who were behind the murders, including suggestions of a discord between the Four and the United Democratic Front, a new anti-apartheid movement and the Azanian People's Organization, AZAPO, another political movement.

Lukhanyo Calata, well-known South African journalist, author and son of Fort Calata, said that his father's political involvement was almost spurred on at the death of his grandfather in June 1983. Reverend James Calata was the former secretary general of the African National Congress and his funeral saw many leaders of the organisation in attendance.

Soon after Calata senior's funeral, Fort Calata was galvanised into action, starting the Cradock Youth Association ( Cradoya) , while Matthew Goniwe formed the Cradock Residents Association (Cradora), with Fort as the treasurer of the association.

Lukhanyo explained that the residents' association dealt with bread and butter issues in the community, such as rent and sanitation issues.

1984 - A Political Turning Point for Cradock

In 1984, these associations became more politically active in the Lingilihle township. To weaken the two associations, the apartheid government decided to split Calata and Goniwe by forcing Goniwe to return to teaching in Graaf Reinet. He refused, and was told by the department of education that he "had dismissed himself." In February 1984, Fort Calata arranged a school boycott where they demanded Goniwe's reinstatement.

Lukhanyo said that youths would engage with police, especially at night, where Lingilihle residents would leave their back doors open in case anyone needed to escape arrest.

Lingelihle was seen as a threat by the apartheid government and a decision was made that would change the political and societal landscape of that community and South Africa as a whole.

In March 1984, the apartheid government realised that the problem in the Eastern Cape town was worsening.

On 31 March 1984, the police arrested and detained Fort Calata, Matthew Goniwe and his cousin Mbulelo Goniwe. Madoda Jacobs, a headboy at Lingelihle High School and a COSAS and CRADOYA leader, had been detained two days before them. All Cradock Residents Association meetings as well as the Cradock Youth Association meetings were banned for three months, giving rise to petrol bombings, stonings and attacks on community councillors homes. On March 31, 1984, police minister Louis Le Grange banned all meetings.

In April 1984, school learners marched through Lingelihle township, demanding the reinstatement of Goniwe. On May 27, 1984 the South African Defence Force (SADF) cordoned off Lingelihle Township, searching for public violence suspects. In June 1984, Goniwe, his nephew Mbulelo, Calata and Jacobs who were still in detention, were listed as a potential threat under the Internal Security Act. During their detention, Calata's wife, Nomonde was harassed by the security police and threatened with eviction from their home. The arrests were supposed "to ease" the violence but this had the opposite effect. The community were now demanding the release of the four. By this time, Calata was also dismissed as a teacher.

They were released without trial on October 10, 1984.

Following their release, the community decided on peaceful protests that took the form of consumer boycotts of white businesses in the town, where they normally spent what little money they had, Lukhanyo said. This followed the call made by Matthew Goniwe in December 1984 - for a boycott known as the "Black Christmas" - of white-owned shops, infuriating the white business community. The boycott was successful, as the Lingelihle community did not buy food or liquor from white-owned stores. Goniwe also called for an end to the violence.

In January 1985, the Lingilihle town council resigned, leaving the running of the township to the community. This saw the establishment of Cradora, a governing body where they would identify and implement needs in the community. This included the building of a crèche, an advice centre, etc. Crime levels had dropped and because of school boycotts, night schools were set up in Lingilihle, where learners were able to catch up on missed work, with Goniwe and Calata, former teachers, to assist.

Lukhanyo said that the apartheid system was set up by a minority who would do anything to cling to power. "Lingilihle township was a threat to that system, as other townships would see how well it was being governed and the Apartheid government feared that this could result in a revolt", he said.

Goniwe and Calata were branded "terrorists" and a decision was taken at Tuynhuis in Cape Town, the official residence of the president of South Africa on June 10, 1985 to permanently remove the two from society.

Lukhanyo believes that they were killed "to show anyone that when you come against us, we will kill you and we will get away with it."

Reflecting on the experiences his family had undergone – he describes the family - eldest sister Dorothy, himself and youngest sister Tumani's life as "very difficult". Their mother Nomonde was fired from her job at a state hospital and faced various legal charges. She was herself accused of participating in a campaign to support communism. She opened a house shop that sold basic goods like coffee and tea to the community.

When their home was raided by police, Lukhanyo remembers how they would destroy their goods and their Mom's ability to put food on the table.
"Often they would mix water into the paraffin and washing powder into the sugar. The government thought that by bringing financial instability or committing economic sabotage (as we know it today) would force my parents to rethink their political position," he said.

He also remembers how the Foundation for Peace and Justice, led by Reverend Alan Boesak, sent the family monthly cheques after his father's death. He lauded Boesak, saying that if it wasn't for him and the foundation "they would not be where they are today." He said his family were "deeply saddened" when Boesak was jailed in 2000 for fraud. He was released in 2001.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was called for by then-President Nelson Mandela, to help South Africa "heal the wounds" of the Apartheid past. The hearing began under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. South African big business was represented, explaining their role in apartheid. The main focus though was on the role the police and military played in the deaths of political activists. Harrowing accounts were heard by victims' families - the truth of how they were killed. In some cases burial grounds were also identified.

Many perpetrators applied for amnesty from prosecution, some were denied. Many of them did not apply, including former Apartheid president FW De Klerk, who attended meetings where the "removal from society" of Matthew Goniwe and Fort Calata were discussed and planned. The TRC did not heal wounds and needed a reparation component that was sorely missing for victims' families, some felt.

In the Cradock Four's case, and many others, the lack of action in the prosecution of the cases has been brought to the fore.

What deals were made to bury the TRC cases?

" If deals were made between the African National Congress and former apartheid operatives - as was confirmed by the FW De Klerk Foundation – who gave the ANC the mandate to do so?

If a deal was made that Fort Calata and the other three's murderers would not be prosecuted, we were not consulted. We would be insane to agree to such an agreement", Lukhanyo Calata says.

Among the questions asked in the papers filed at the Pretoria High Court recently, the Calata family are asking are: "What kind of deal was agreed on? When was the deal made? How was the deal made and by whom?"

Lukhanyo said that if the deal was made before the elections and before the TRC, it would mean that a "massive fraud was made against all the people of South Africa". It is for this reason he says that "a commission of inquiry must be set up to investigate the suppression of all TRC cases".

He feels strongly that the African National Congress ( ANC ) government must do right by the people. "Part of their responsibility as the government is to deliver on the expectations of the people."

He wants to see that criminals are brought to book. He wants to see justice for his father Fort Calata, his mother Nomonde and his sisters Tumani and Dorothy but for all the other victims and families too.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) released a statement on June 27, 2021 recommitting to the Cradock Four's case but papers were filed in the Pretoria High Court earlier in July 2021, asking the court to give the authority deadlines by which to deliver tangible outcomes. Lukhanyo said the families "no longer trust the NPA to act with speed unless the courts stand behind them".

" We understood that taking this case to court under the Apartheid government, we would have had a slim chance of seeing justice for the four", because he said wryly, "the perpetrators cannot prosecute themselves". He said the families hoped that under the ANC government, it would be different but 36 years later, it isn't.

" In 1994, Judge Neville Zietsmann found that there was a "strong likelihood that security forces were responsible for the Cradock Four's deaths. Imagine what a different country we would have had, if the ANC government at that time, had acted. It would have sent the message that Black lives matter. If De Klerk and his cohorts were arrested and tried then, children, white children in particular, would have grown up knowing that white and black people are treated equally and are as important, no matter who they are, or what their station in life", Lukhanyo added. He said we have become a society where people act with impunity, because they know they can "get away" with crime, particularly that of corruption.

He added that having only one a partheid criminal Eugene De Kock sent to jail for his crimes, is "ridiculous". He added that "South Africa never started its democracy on the right notes".

Asked whether the legal team would consider approaching the International Criminal Court in the future, he said: " T he case is at the Pretoria High Court. We are hoping it does not go as far as the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Court. The ICC will be a consideration that needed to be discussed with his legal team."

Asked what he would want his father Fort Calata and his three comrades Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Sicelo Mhlauli to know, Lukhanyo, after some thought said:

" I would like them to know how proud we are of them. That despite the inherent dangers and the threats, that we are aware that they gave the best of themselves. It is for this reason that I feel that I need to give the best of myself for them. They paved the way and affirmed my right to grow up in a country where I am not judged by the colour of my skin. We love them. We honour them. And they must rest in the knowledge that their lives had meaning and that we will continue to fight for them."

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