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The shadow of Goniwe in the era of De Klerk

The sun has turned brick red as we skim down the Wapadsberg Pass, the moun¬tainous eastern border of the Great Karoo, towards Cradock with Mbongeni Ngema’s musical Sarafina blasting from the car tape: ”You [***ing communist!” says a black cop to Sarafina’s teacher, who has subversively named Libya as one of the oil-producing countries. 

”You f**ing communist!” Seven-year-old Nyaniso Goniwe, echoes the tape recording, giggling, while his 14-year-old sister Nobuzwe grins and his mother, Nyami, feigns indifference. The echo is repeated – with the little boy stretching each syllable this time. It is almost four years to the day that Nyaniso’s father, Matthew, the Cradock-based United Democratic Front leader – himself labelled a ”communist” by the white authorities – was found murdered and mutilated in the scrub alongside a highway. 

Since the day that Matthew and the three men who were murdered with him were buried, the black population of Cradock has been subjected to almost continuous martial rule. Nearly every community leader or activist – young and old – was jailed under the State of Emergency, some for nearly three years. And for months at a time, security forces occupied Lingelihle, the overcrowded, dusty black township outside Cradock. But this evening, coming into Lingelihle with Matthew’s widow and children, there are no roadblocks. 

In fact, there is no sign of uniformed men, although, according to the police unrest report – the only authorised ”unrest” news source under the State of Emergency – a black municipal policeman was shot dead here only days ago. We draw up outside the Goniwe home, where Matthew’s older brother Alex Goniwe greets us in the bright, warm living room. The tall, barrel-chested man chuckles as he tells us who had come to visit him recently: Tobie Meyer, the local National Party Member of Parliament who is seeking ”co-operation” with the community. He has offered Alex two air-tickets to Durban ”to investigate starting a vegetable garden”. 

What does it mean when the local ruling party representative goes in search of ”enemies of the state” to talk about ”co-operation”? Are ”negotiations”, that current international buzzword, about to start locally, here in this most recalcitrant of black communities? Certainly, there are signs that the authorities are trying to establish some working relationship with the community. Their attempts range from the unsubtle – such as offering to fly Goniwe to Durban – to the clumsy, such as the time, according to resident, Sezile Dano, when the police swooped on him and a few others in the small hours one freezing winter morning, drove them into town, and shepherded them into the office of a local security police officer. ”Gentlemen, thank you for coming to this meeting…” was reportedly his opening gambit. 

The local mini-Joint Management Committee (JMC) has also poured about R15-million into the township, according to Meyer, Cradock’s MP for the past two years. The dust roads that used to flood over with mud when it rained now have gutters, new houses are being built on the periphery of the township to alleviate the overcrowding, a stadium has been built and the main road has been tarred. Isn’t this at least an indication that the authorities are responding to the years of pressure and resistance from this 25 000-strong community? Yes, but at what cost, says Nyami Goniwe. ”After we’ve lost so many people and so many of our lives have been messed up.” And whatever the overtures from the authorities, say community leaders, the bottom line has still not been met: unbanning the residents’ organisation, Cradora, which was restricted under the Emergency regulations in February 1988. 

Meyer says it is not Cradora that is the problem, but the UDF. He says he even went to see Mbulelo Goniwe, Matthew’s nephew and a leading township activist, while he was in detention to discuss this. ”Mr Goniwe said we could negotiate but every thing we say must be sanctioned by the UDF – that’s the problem. If they break with the UDF then we can talk to them.” What Meyer really wants, he says, is for community leaders such as the Goniwes to stand for the black town council in Lingelihle. (Mbulelo Goniwe is restricted and cannot talk to journalists, so he was not able to give his view on the meeting.) Ushered in as part of the government’s restructuring of black local authorities in the wake of the civil unrest of 1985, the Lingelihle town council has been abject failure. Only one person sits on it – the white township administrator. 

Now if the Goniwes were to stand for election, says Meyer, he’d say: ”Please carry on. We’ll accept whoever they are. That is an open invitation.” However meagre this offering in the eyes of the community, it is in marked contrast to the treatment township leaders have been subjected to before. Matthew Goniwe is a name that is still on everyone’s lips. No¬ one, one gets the feeling, could have been so loved and respected in era¬ dock’s entire history with the possible exception of Canon JA Calata, who, as well as being a teacher and the first black Anglican canon, was the Cape secretary – general of the African National Congress in the 1930s.

Neither the police, nor white politicians, tried to cajole Matthew into becoming a town council member, nor did they offer him plane tickets to other cities. Instead they fired him from his job as a high-school teacher, detained him without trial, called him a communist, and, the people believe, eventually killed him. And now, says Nyami grimly on the night we arrive, ”All those people who were fighting Matthew, calling him all sorts of nasty names, have all left. And Cradock still remains as it was.” 

The former deputy Minister of Education, George De V Morrison, who called him a communist, is no longer in the cabinet, a security policeman, who once threatened him at gunpoint on a lonely country road, is no longer in Cradock, and the former National Party MPC, who railed against him now has the elevated position of Ambassador to the Ciskei. Nyami laughs as she tells me this. Does this new approach then mean that the mantle of repression is lifting? Not really, say community leaders. Although the detainees have all been released, seven of them – Mbulelo Goniwe, Zenzile Blaauw, Mopo Mene, Madoda Jacobs, Lula¬ mile Georgias, Mninawa Nontiyi, and Xolile Mpatu are heavily restricted. All have spent nearly three years in jails. Jacobs, 27, a student of Matthew’s, was detained with him in Pollsmoor in 1984. 

In the last five years he has been charged twice, once with public violence, the other time with murder. Twice he has beer acquitted. Twice he remained in detention under Emergency regulations. It was the hunger strike, say former detainees, that eventually sprung them from jail, not a change of heart by the ”system”. ”We had tried by all means to get released,” said one former detainee ‘When we went on hunger strike it was our last resort.” Today, meetings are still banned t and instead of white policemen laying siege to the township, black municipal cops – the amatshakas – maintain the State of Emergency. It was while they were breaking up: – memorial meeting to commemorate the death of Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata, and Sicelo Mhlawuli that the municipal cop got killed, youths told Gilly Skweyiya, a leader both in the community and the Methodist Church. Skweyiya, who is middle-aged, scrupulously polite, and intensely proud of Cradock’s tradition of resistance, was in detention for 555 days. The harassment went further than a jail spell, though.

In a region notorious for its exiguity of jobs, Skweyiya lost his as a ledger clerk at what used to be the Administration Board, now the barely operating Lingelihle Town Council. Skweyiya says his sudden dismissal was because the police had described him as a ”security threat” to his employers. He has filed an unfair dismissal case against the council in the Industrial Court. He tells me this on a bright, but windy Sunday after a service at the Methodist Church, to which he has welcomed me and other visitors, saying: ”In this congregation, there are many who have been detained, there are mothers who have lost their children. But we will not give up. Our history is great.” That history he says now, was always associated with the ANC (”We never had a problem with black consciousness.”) When Matthew appeared on the scene and the UDF was launched, ”it was only natural that the community should follow them”. 

Matthew Goniwe was ”disciplined”, he says. In the volatile atmosphere that swept the country in 1984/85, hardly a stone was thrown to get the community councillors to resign. When the mayoress of the community council, Doris Hermans, eventually resigned, the youth removed the burglar bars put up by the Administration Board at her house. Her home was mysteriously fire¬ bombed in 1985 soon after the funeral of the four UDF men, but, says Skweyiya, everyone in the community helped to try douse the flames. That cohesion is now being threatened though. Hundreds of squatters, who have migrated from the farms since 1983, have erected shacks; crammed between the edge of Lingelihle and the bare cliffs overhanging the Fish River.

The JMC want to move them up the hill to the other side of the township. While there are urgent health reasons, perhaps, for doing this – there is no running water, and barely any sewerage collection in the camp – township people fear resettlement will give the authorities more control over the squatters. ”The community is aware of what might happen then,” says Skweyiya. “They might be persuaded to stand for the council, or even to become municipal policemen.” It will, he 1 warns, be a potential flashpoint, ”but we don’t think they’ll get the town council to work”.

The article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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