Ten years on who killed Matthew Goniwe

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the unsolved assassination of Matthew Goniwe and his three Cradock comrades. Jonathan Ancer visited Goniwe’s home town

Among the simple graves and the old, weathered headstones one polished tombstone looms large in the Lingelihle Cemetery.

It stands watch over the remains and memories of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo

The world was shocked when the charred and mutilated body of Goniwe, the Cradock school principal who churned out matric pupils with As and Bs in science and mathematics, and who led one of the most potent resistance campaigns against apartheid, was discovered with those of his comrades in dense bush near Port

Last year an inquest judge found that Goniwe and his comrades were murdered by unnamed members of the security forces. To mark the 10th anniversary of the assassination, President Nelson Mandela and Eastern Cape Premier Raymond Mhlaba will visit Cradock this weekend to lay wreaths at the graves.

At 55 Qhini Street in Lingelihle township, three of Goniwe’s brothers, Alex, Sam and Allie, spoke about the life and death of their extraordinary younger brother.

They spoke of his parents, David and Elizabeth, who worked as farm labourers a few kilometres from where Olive Schreiner wrote The Story of an African Farm.

Eldest brother Alex Goniwe says that Matthew, born in Cradock in 1947, attended St James’ Primary school and moved on to Sam Xhallie Secondary school, where he obtained his junior certificate.
He wrote his final matric exams in Healdton.

After school he obtained a teachers’ diploma from Fort Hare University and returned to Sam Xhallie school to teach maths and science.

Gili Skweyiya, 60, enters the Goniwe home. Matthew’s soft-spoken older brother Sam Goniwe points to his knee and explains, “Gili has been a friend of ours since he was this high.”

Skweyiya describes Matthew as a “born teacher” who took an active interest in the work of his students.

According to Alex Goniwe, Matthew was influenced by two figures in Cradock—Reverend James Calata and his uncle Jaques Goniwe.

Calata was a founder member of the ANC at the turn of the century. Jaques Goniwe was Secretary-General of Cradock’s ANC Youth League. “Jaques was the first person in Cradock to burn his pass book in defiance of the National Party,” Alex Goniwe says.

In 1960, when the police started clamping down on political activity in Cradock, Jaques Goniwe left South Africa to join the ANC in Maseru.

Alex Goniwe continues, “Jaques and three other Cradock boys were coming back to South Africa from Rhodesia and were ambushed and shot dead.” The brothers believe that it was Jaques’ death that gave birth to Matthew’s political activity.

In 1974 Matthew Goniwe left for a teaching post in Transkei and married Nyameka, a social worker. Matthew’s political involvement in Transkei led to his arrest in 1977, when he was convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to four years in Umtata Prison.

After his spell in jail, Goniwe returned to teaching in Graaff-Reinet and completed a BA degree through Unisa. He was then transferred to Cradock and appointed the headmaster of Sam Xhallie High.

Skweyiya says that Matthew instilled a sense of responsibility among the youth. “Some of the youth used resistance as an excuse for ill-discipline and this filtered into the schools. The schools used to have discotheques where anything would go. The students were experts in dice throwing, dagga smoking and drunkenness. Matthew replaced the discos with proper concerts. All the parents respected him.”

In 1983 Goniwe called a mass meeting to discuss how the community should respond to high rents. Skweyiya recalls: “We all came because we were all struggling. People decided to take action against the authorities.” They formed the Cradock Residents Association and elected Goniwe its first chairperson.

In 1983, in an effort to destroy Goniwe’s influence, the Department of Education and Training (DET) tried to transfer him to Graaff-Reinet.

This caused teachers and pupils from Cradock’s seven schools to embark on a 15-month class boycott—the longest in the country’s history.

Alex Goniwe recalls: “Cradock could not be controlled. People started resisting and community councillors were being harassed like anything. The police were detaining everybody.”

Goniwe’s success in starting the first campaign to make the townships ungovernable put him in the firing line. He was detained for six months and then released. By this time the education authorities had caved in and were promising to reinstate Goniwe, but he was never to return to the classroom.

“We knew he was going to be butchered,” says brother Alex. “June 27 came ... you know the rest.”

The inquest heard how the SADF’s Eastern Province Command sent a signal to the State Security Council recommending that Matthew Goniwe and others be “permanently removed from society”.

A day before his death, June 26, Goniwe addressed a rally in Cradock commemorating the Freedom Charter. The next day he met Eastern Cape UDF organiser Derrick Swarts in Port Elizabeth. He left Port Elizabeth at 9.00pm with his three colleagues.

That night Skweyiya was at the Goniwe home listening to Nyameka relate the speech Matthew had delivered at the rally.

“I was sitting at the table where Matthew used to work. Nyameka seemed distracted and kept glancing at the clock.”

Evidence from the first inquest indicated that the four men were tortured and shot. The bodies were placed on their backs, petrol was poured on their faces and then set alight.

The funeral, held on July 20, was addressed by prominent UDF patrons Allan Boesak, Beyers Naude and Steve Tshwete. A message from ANC president Oliver Tambo was read to the tens of thousands of people who had gathered. The country seethed.

PW Botha responded with the first State of Emergency.

Says Alex Goniwe: “Matthew was murdered because he had mobilised people in Cradock and the surrounding areas on a scale never seen before. He destroyed the community council system; they never forgave him for

Despite several investigations and two formal inquests, the murders of the Cradock Four remain unsolved.

Says Alex Goniwe: “There is talk that we must forgive. How can we forgive one who has not come forward and said ‘I am sorry for what I have done to your brother, husband, wife, daughter, son’? We must know who we are forgiving.”—Ecna

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