The Cradock Four

Martyrs of The Struggle – Murdered by the Security Forces in 1985

Their noble ideals betrayed by the SACP and ANC government

These biographies have been compiled over seven years (2003-2009) from research comprising material from archives, both inquests, magazine and newspaper reports and articles, the TRC Report and the transcriptions of the hearings, books, interviews with relatives, and the internet. I apologise for any errors that may have crept in during the editing, and would appreciate receiving any information which could add to our knowledge of these men and the events which took place.

Fort Calata Biography

Fort Calata was born on 3 November 1956, and was a leader of Cradora, the Cradock Residents’ Association, at the time of his murder. He had been harassed, threatened, detained and tortured, by the security forces. His family suffered greatly from the harassment of the Security Police, like all other activists.

Fort died at the age of 28 – the youngest of the four –  from stab wounds to his heart, after being illegally abducted by the Security Police.

Fort met his wife, Nomonde, at school. Fort’s band was playing at an afternoon “span”. Their first child, Dorothy, was born in 1976, and the two of them became very involved in politics after the 1976 student uprising in Soweto. Fort’s grandfather, the Reverend Canon James Arthur Calata, had been secretary general of African National Congress from 1936-1949. In 1956, when Fort was born, Canon was an accused in the Treason Trial. He named Fort not after the prison he was locked up in, in Pretoria, but because he believed the child would become someone “soldiers could be protected by”. Rev Calata had a huge influence on the political development of people in Cradock.

As a child, when police came to his family, Fort would read passages from the bible celebrating freedom. “Fort was not an angry man, but he liked action,” says Nomonde.

In 1983, Fort was a teacher at Sam Xhalliie High School in Cradock. A new acting headmaster arrived, Matthew Goniwe. They instantly became friends, speaking the same political language, although they had their differences –  Fort was religious and Matthew was a communist. Fort was always seen as more radical than Matthew, and would endorse action above talking or negotiations.

Matthew Goniwe had been instrumental in forming the Cradock Residents Association (Cradora), set up primarily to fight rent increases. Fort Calata, a fellow teacher, assisted him, and later became chairperson of the Cradora’s sister association, the Cradock Youth Association (Cradoya). Both organisations affiliated later that year to the United Democratic Front, set up to nationally unite all organisations opposed to Apartheid.

At 10am on March 19, 1984, FW was at a SSC meeting where former Finance Min Barend du Plessis proposed the “removal” of Goniwe and Calata. Du Plessis said: “In Cradock is daar twee oud-onderwysers wat as agitators optree. Dit sou goed wees as hulle verwyder kon word.” (In Cradock there are two ex-teachers who are acting at agitators. It would be good if they could be removed.)

At the end of March, Fort was detained with three other comrades, Matthew Goniwe, Matthew’s cousin Mbulelo Goniwe, and head prefect Fezile, Donald “Madoda” Jacobs, under Section 28 of the feared Internal Security Act. Fort was taken to Johannesburg Prison for his detention. IN June, they were informed they had been “listed” which meant they could not be quoted. While in detention, he was informed on 21 August that he had been dismissed from his teaching post. He did not receive a salary while in detention.

Nomonde, meanwhile, had suffered harassment by the Security Police, fired from her job at the hospital, and threatened with eviction. Ten days before she had been warned that if she didn’t pay her outstanding rent, all her furniture would be removed from her house in the new section of Lingelihle township and the house would be locked.

When she went to apply for a permit to visit her husband in detention she was told the Security Police lieutenant wanted to see her. He asked where she had received the money to pay her rent and buy food for her two children. He had told her he knew she was an ANC supporter. When she started a little shop to make ends meet, supported by the local community, the Security Police came in and broke it up, mixing the sugar with the washing powder, breaking the candles, and so on.

In August, a successful seven-day boycott was called of white shops, protesting against the detentions of their leaders. They were released on 10 October to a heroes’ welcome. But they were marked men. The security forces consequently targeted both Goniwe and Calata, and their comrades, and established or supported conservative forces in neighbouring towns in an attempt to break the organisational influence of Cradock.

But in January 1985, the entire community council in Lingelihle resigned, the first to do so. In February, the Cradock securocrats decided that Goniwe & Calata must NEVER be reappointed as teachers.

In early April 1985, the schools boycott was called off, despite the refusal of the DET to reinstate Goniwe and Calata. Fort and Matthew were briefly detained in April at the Sanlam building in PE, and Fort heard someone asking: ”Can we do it now?” and a senior officer replied: “No, this is not the right time.”

Three months before his death, Fort told Nomonde about an incident when they had been followed by a minibus full of white men, but they had managed to elude them. She believed it was a hit squad seeking to kill Goniwe and her husband.

Nomonde details some of the harassment she suffered. She suffered the fear for her husband a month before his death when Deputy Minister Adriaan Vlok visited the township with a heavily armed guard and a policeman raised a finger and pointed at her home.

Fort had been treated in Johannesburg for a “frozen shoulder” and could not lift his arm above his shoulders. He had returned just a few weeks before his death. While he was away, the head of the Cradock Security Police, Major Eric Winter, visited her and sat on her bed, asking her where Fort was. He whispered to her: “You can hide him, anywhere, but I am telling you, we will get hold of him, and he will shit himself.”

On 27 June, they drove to Port Elizabeth to attend a UDF briefing. They did not return home to Cradock, and their burnt and mutilated bodies were found near Bluewater Bay outside Port Elizabeth the following week.

The last image Nomonde has of Fort is of him playing with son Lukhanyo in their matchbox house at 30 Siyabulela St, Lingelihle. They used to call each other “kedwini” (buddy). Fort was about to leave for the UDF meeting.

His disappearance was the “defining moment” in Nomonde’s life. Sicelo and Sparrow’s bodies had been found on the Saturday in the scrub near Bluewater Bay, and now it was Tuesday. Nomonde was six months pregnant with Thamani. Her two children Dorothy (10) and Lukhanyo (3), went with her to her mother in law’s house. The Anglican priest Rev Chris Dano was there, and had been there every day since Fort had disappeared five days before. During the prayers, Lukhanyo began to vomit, Dorothy continued to pray and sing before being consumed by her own sobbing.

Thamani, their unborn child was born 2 months after his funeral on 20 July 1985, the day the regime declared a State of Emergency in the Eastern Cape and arrested scores of activists.

Finally the news came, five days after Fort had disappeared. His body had been found with Matthew’s, stabbed and burnt, near Bluewater Bay. The police could not explain their disappearance, or why they had been found so far from the abandoned, burnt car, or so far away from the other two bodies (a distance of some kilometres).

Meanwhile, Security Policeman Fred Koni, who used to tap their phones, said if normal tailing procedures had been followed, the police would know who killed them. Koni related how top Cradock Security Policeman, Eric Winter made a call after seeing the transcript, then Winter had left the office with two white Security Policemen, Warrant Officers Hough and Sgt Labuschagne, unusually leaving no details of where he was going. They didn’t return until June 28, when Winter had been “unusually anxious” and constantly asked what had been heard on the telephone tap on Goniwe’s house.

On 28 June, activist Gladwell Makaula had phoned Nyameka Goniwe to ask if Matthew was home. Later WO Stephanus Johannes Els, the Murder and Robbery detective who was the investigating officer, had phoned her to tell her that her husband’s burnt out car had been found near the Scribante Race Track outside Port Elizabeth. That night, at a meeting of a soccer club, Gladwell Makaula announced the car had been found but the people were missing: “We know it is not Azapo, it is them,” he told the hushed crowd.

The community immediately sent our search parties to question police in neighbouring towns to see if they had been detained, and to search the bushy areas near where the burnt out car had been found. This led to the finding of the bodies first of Sparrow Mkonto, and then Sicelo Mhlauli. After the families demanded a better search by the authorities, the army and police dogs were brought in, and the bodies of Matthew and Fort were found.

The four were buried in Cradock on 20 July 1985, at a massive political funeral attended by comrades from all over the country. Estimates of the crowd were more than 100 000. Speakers included Rev Beyers Naude, and Rev Allan Boesak. The regime declared a State of Emergency in the Eastern Cape the same day, and arrested scores of activists on their way home after the funeral in buses. The State of Emergency would spread the following year to around the country, but it was too late. Within five years Mandela would walk free, and lead the country to liberation.

After Fort’s death, uniformed Cops used to pass her house in their yellow vans shouting “Viva Bluewater Bay” with fists raised in a mock salute. Security Policeman Labuschagne regularly walked into her home leering at her in front of her children and saying: “Shame, do you need a father for your children?”

An two-year inquest began in 1987 (Inquest # 626/87) under the Inquests Act # 58 of 1959 and headed by Magistrate E de Beer, found that they had been killed by “unknown persons” and that “no-one was to blame”. The inquest, which ended on 22 February 1989, was referred to as “kukudlala oku” which, in Xhosa, means “nothing serious about it”, giving a clue as to how the local populace viewed it.

The second inquest was reopened in 1992, by President FW de Klerk, after the disclosure on 22 May 1992 by New Nation newspaper of a Top Secret military signal calling for the "permanent removal from society" of Goniwe, Calata and Goniwe’s cousin, Mbulelo.

The second inquest ran for 18 months in terms of the Inquests Amendment. It began on 29 March 1993  and on 25 March, FW  de Klerk said all government documents had been made available to the Eastern Cape Attorney General.

But a source at Eastern Province Command claimed the SADF team sent to investigate the leak of the signal document simply cleaned up all the evidence before the Attorney General arrived.

Judge Neville Zietsman, delivering his verdict, found that the security forces were responsible for their deaths, although no individual was named as responsible.

"In my opinion there is prima facie proof that it was members of the security forces that in fact carried out the murders. It was proved further that Mathew Goniwe was a thorn in the flesh of the security forces . . . referred to as an enemy of the state whose activities had to be curtailed or terminated,” the judge said.

“It has also been proved prima facie in my opinion, that the signal sent by Colonel (Lourens) du Plessis on the instructions of Brigadier “Joffel” van der Westhuizen to Major General van Rensburg was a recommendation that Matthew Goniwe, Mbulelo Goniwe and Fort Calata should be killed and that this was the meaning Colonel du Plessis and Brigadier van der Westhuizen intended the signal to have."

The judge named police colonels Harold Snyman and Eric Winter and SADF officers Brigadier “Joffel” van der Westhuizen, Colonel Lourens du Plessis and Major-General Johannes van Rensburg, but said: "The problem is that we do not know what happened to the signal after it had been received by Van Rensburg . . . There is no evidence to prove that the recommendation in the signal was adopted and carried out. There is no evidence to prove that the person or persons who murdered Matthew Goniwe and the others knew of the signal or its content."

Judge Zietsman also said the security forces had conducted a thorough cover-up of the murders. The families subsequently filed a claim for damages against the SADF and the SAP and this was eventually settled.

Nursing the wounds of decades of institutionalized racism, the government in 1994 formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to allow amnesty for politically motivated crimes. Broadcast live, each session unfolded before a visibly emotional audience. The TRC under Archbishop Desmond Tutu took three years (1996-1998) to complete their work.

The families related their experiences to the TRC at a hearing in East London in April 1996. The Eastern Cape TRC chair, the Rev Bongani Finca opened the TRC hearings in Cradock on 10 February 1997. Another hearing was held, also in February.

Seven men applied for amnesty for the murder of the Cradock Four: five members of the Port Elizabeth Security Police, one army colonel and the notorious leader of the Vlakplaas hit squads, Colonel Eugene de Kock, known to his colleagues as ”Prime Evil”.

The PE policemen were branch chief Colonel Harold Snyman, his deputy, Major-General Nicholas Janse van Rensburg, Captain Johan Martin "Sakkie" van Zyl, the man who led the hit squad, Lt Eric Alexander Taylor, Sgt Gerhardus Johannes Lotz, and SADF colonel Hermanus Barend du Plessis.

The seven testified before Mr Justice Ronnie Pillay in Centenary Hall, Ntshekisa Street in Port Elizabeth from February until March. In their applications for amnesty, the security policemen gave their version of the murders: Taylor said he and five others had staked out the PE-Cradock road. At about 10pm the car was spotted and they followed in two cars. Before Middleton they overtook the activists and blocked the road. Taylor’s statement said: “At about 23h00 on 27 June 1985 these four identified activists were intercepted in the vicinity of the Olifantshoek (sic) pass (it’s actually called Olifantskop Pass).

“(They) were transported together with Van Zyl, Taylor and Lotz to an area near St George Beach near Port Elizabeth, where (security policemen) Mgoduka, Faku and (askari) Sakati later joined us. The four men were handcuffed, separated and driven back towards PE under the impression they were being detained. The convoy turned off at Bluewater Bay, near the Scribante race track. (The black Security Policemen were murdered in 1989 by their white colleagues when they threatened to spill the beans).

Bloemhof farmer Mrs Dorris Butters and driver Mr Ntonti Vusani said they had been stopped at a Security Forces roadblock near Bluewater Bay at 6.30pm on June 27, although there is no official record of the roadblock. They say the roadblock was on freeway near the Bluewater Bay off-ramp, and was the biggest roadblock she had ever seen. Police claimed the roadblock was a week before.

Sicelo and Sparrow were in one car, Matthew and Fort in another, another assassin drove the Ballade. Harold Snyman had told them: “It was between us. Nobody has to know about this except ourselves.”

Taylor guarded Goniwe and Calata in handcuffs for 30 minutes while the others were killed. Fort was then taken from the front seat by Taylor, while Matthew stayed handcuffed in the back. Fort was killed. his fingers were cut off: did he try to stop them stabbing him by grabbing the knife? Fort had a “frozen” shoulder and could not lift his arm above his head. Was he able to defend himself? Fort died of stab wounds in the heart.

In going before the truth commission, Calata and the other widows had hoped to achieve some sort of justice. She now knows the identities of the killers. Although the TRC rejected their claim for amnesty (only Eugene de Kock got amnesty), the former policemen were never charged. They still walk free. "I don't think it will ever end," said Calata. "We are still waiting for the perpetrators to be judged for what they did."

Nomonde felt used by the TRC. Eric Taylor asked to meet the relatives at a Kabega Park NGK church so he could be forgiven. At this meeting, on 21 April 1997, family members of the Cradock Four traveled to the church hall of the NG Kerk of Port Elizabeth-Nooitgedacht. Rev Charl Coetzee, Rev Mcibisi Xundu and activist June Creighton awaited them. So, too, Taylor. After Rev Xundu had explained the purpose of the gathering, he gave Taylor the floor.

Taylor explained: "I am here in response to God's prompting and I fully believe that He has forgiven me. I also applied for amnesty and although it is not a certainty, amnesty may be granted. But amnesty is a technical matter and will do nothing towards reconciliation. I have realized that the only way to find peace is to tell the families, wives, children, brothers and sisters that I am sorry for a lot that happened and to ask them if they can find strength through God to forgive."

Taylor explained what had happened. The families wanted details, which were not forthcoming. Taylor wanted forgiveness in 15 minutes. He sobbed on the vestry table. Nomonde said to Taylor: “I want you to know, Mr Taylor, for these last eleven and a half years you have let me suffer a lot and I am still suffering because of you. You robbed my children of their father’s love, and you robbed me of my husband’s love, and I want to make it clear to you that my husband was not only my husband to me, he was my brother, my friend, he was everything to me and you decided to take him away in such a cruel way.”

Nomonde said, "My prayer has always been to meet them (the perpetrators) so they could explain what they did and why. I prayed daily. Sometimes I got very angry, I feel they should take responsibility for caring for my children. I lost my job. I lost my husband, my friend, my children's father. I loved him. He loved his children. I was about to have a baby when he died. He wanted a girl. I wanted a boy. The day that he left I was supposed to go to the doctor. The last thing he said was, `I want a girl, tell the doctor.' When she was born I couldn't even take her in my arms.

Xundu and Creighton insisted the meeting remain confidential. Calata was devastated. She was face to face with her husband’s killer, and had to remain silent.

One of the male relatives shook hands with Eric Taylor. "Thank you," he said. "I told God if He put you in front of me I would shake your hand. I appreciate what you have done here today. I am relieved but not yet fully." Another man, also a family member, said, "We live because they died. We have agonized over the type of death they had. We thank you for your honesty."

In 1998, the ANC organised a planned memorial service for the four, but informed Nomonde of it only on the day it was to be held. She refused to attend, because she had not been consulted. The ANC later apologised.

Dorothy says: “The Eastern Cape was the fireplace for making a big fire under the seat of the white man’s South Africa. How do you forget how that fire was started? You are already warm and you no longer care. You have forgotten what it is like to be cold.”

A monument commemorating the lives of three generations of Cradock activists who died during the struggle, including the Cradock Four, was unveiled by then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma and Eastern Cape Premier Makhenkesi Stofile. Zuma said the "new cadre" the ANC was looking for would be like the four men who had made the "ultimate sacrifice" in the struggle. “To truly honour these fallen heroes we must complete their mission by serving our people and transforming South Africa".

The  monument was dedicated to nine of Cradock's fallen heroes, including Jacques Goniwe, Gangathi Hlekani, Lenon Melani and Ben Ngalo, the four Umkhonto we Sizwe activists killed during the Wankie-Sipholilo campaign in Zimbabwe in 1967. It was also erected in memory of Canon James Arthur Calata, the ANC's longest serving secretary-general. Nearby is a modern steel monument depicting four figures sitting in circle holding hands. Monument designer Christa de Wet said the figures represented the Cradock Four.

On the 10th anniversary Nelson Mandela and Eastern Cape struggle stalwart Raymond Mahlaba visited the graves to lay wreaths. Mandela said: “The death of these gallant freedom fighters marked a turning point in the history of our struggle. No longer could the regime govern in the old way. They were the true heroes of the struggle.”