When Nomonde Calata speaks of the defining moment of her life – the death of her husband, activist Fort Calata, in 1985 – 13 years disappear as if they had never been.
The moment has not been dulled by the grand designs of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In many ways, it has made the pain more keenly felt, and the family has a pervading sense of abandonment and betrayal by the commission, the African National Congress and President Nelson Mandela.
It was a Tuesday. The stabbed, beaten, shot and mutilated bodies of Sicelo Mhlauli and Sparrow Mkhonto had been found on the previous Saturday on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth amid the scrubland of Bluewater Bay. Fort Calata and Matthew Goniwe, who were travelling with them, were still missing.
Nomonde Calata – six months pregnant with Thamani, her two children Dorothy and Lukhanyo by her side – went to her mother-in-law’s house.
The Anglican priest Reverend Chris Dano was there – not unusual, Nomonde Calata says. He had been making the daily rounds since her husband had disappeared five days before.
The reverend greeted her and said they should pray. Calata bowed her head, still full of hope that Fort had been detained by the security police, as he had the countless times before.
But in his prayer, the reverend said: “We should thank God that the bodies of Fort and Matthew have been found.” Hearing those words Lukhanyo’s three- year-old body shuddered and he began to vomit. Dorothy wanted to continue praying. The 10-year-old then broke into a hymn before being consumed by her own sobbing.
“And then I cried and I was just nobody,” Calata says.
When Calata recounted her loss to the truth commission, the tears ran freely, providing a brief outlet for the grief that had plagued her. “The TRC panel listened to me. That was good of them,” she says.
But soon after giving her testimony, her anger resurfaced and with it a sense of being “used” and discarded by the commission. She says she has been paraded so that “there is a feeling that they have done their job, the world has seen they can heal the wound.
“The truth has been told by one side. I don’t know about the other side.”
Last year she was reprimanded by Mcebisi Xundu, of the truth commission’s Eastern Cape human rights violations department, after amnesty applicant Eric Taylor asked for a meeting with relatives of the Cradock Four at a Kabega Park NGK church, so he might be forgiven by them.
Before the meeting Xundu and his colleague June Crichton insisted that the families agree to the meeting remaining confidential. Neither the amnesty committee nor Taylor’s lawyer was informed of the meeting.
Calata found the meeting devastating – after a 12-year search she had finally come face-to-face with one of her husband’s killers. But worse, she had been ordered to maintain a vow of silence over it.
When reports of the meeting appeared in the media a few weeks later, providing the first graphic details of the killings of the Cradock Four, Xundu accused Calata of jeopardising the commission’s work. Calata said Xundu asked what more she wanted, now that she knew who her husband’s killers were.
This year, a local branch of the ANC informed Nomonde of a planned memorial service for the Cradock Four only on the day it was to be held. She refused to attend, since she had not been consulted.
“That is what they are trying to do – deny me my rights to say anything about my late husband.” The ANC branch later apologised for the manner in which the matter was handled.
She said she was accused at another meeting of “coming with her emotions”, as “though we are made of stone”. The meeting was called to discuss a possible education trust fund. She had questioned the meeting’s purpose and asked if this was just another empty promise. “I am sick of empty promises.”
She has tried to find bursaries for her children: Dorothy, now a third- year psychology student at Stellenbosch University, Lukhanyo at boarding school and Thamani, who attends a former white school in Cradock.
She lives on R1 160 a month. This is interest on what she has left of the R390 000 compensation for her husband’s death after buying a house and paying off debts. The compensation was paid by the police and army after the second inquest.
Education costs take care of most of her available income. Early this year she phoned Eastern Cape Premier Makhenkesi Stofile to ask for assistance in finding her childen bursaries. He has yet to return her call. Yet, in his speech to a 1996 rally in Cradock to mark the second anniversary of the elections, he spoke of the sacrifice of the Cradock Four for democracy.
Speaker of the Eastern Cape Legislature Gugile Nkwinti, an old friend of both Goniwe and Fort Calata, offered to stand surety for the student loan, but it was refused by Volkskas Bank on the grounds that he lived in Bisho.
Says Nomonde Calata: “I don’t want to seem racist, but it is white people who have helped – people like Alex Boraine and Rory Riordan.”
Boraine, through an education trust fund, paid for Dorothy’s first year of studies before funding dried up. Riordan, of the Human Rights Trust, organised fee payment for her second year.
But by the start of her third year Dorothy was bogged down in financial troubles. In desperation, she wrote to Mandela. She feared she would not be able to finish her degree, let alone progress to an honours course – for which her grades were good enough.
In her letter, she said she was unable to find funds or a bursary. The June 4 reply from the Office of the President’s administrator reads: “President Mandela has noted the contents of your letter with sympathy and has asked me to forward it to the minister of education to see whether he might be able to help you. In the meantime, you are advised to apply to private companies for a bursary or to commercial banks for a study loan. We sincerely hope that it will be possible to solve your problem.”
She received a letter from the Department of Education suggesting the same course of action. A student loan was eventually raised by using the capital Nomonde Calata lives off as security. Nomonde pays R223 a month to service the loan.
In a psychology assignment entitled Pyschology Education: Children of Political Victims, Dorothy cites a Professor Torado: “One must not be asked to forgive, nor be asked to ask for forgiveness, because then the pure forgiveness is ruined.”
“I also feel that pure healing must not be ruined,” she wrote.
Outside her academic environment she is more forthright about what she sees as her mother’s abandonment and new injustices.
“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.”