Words and Photographs by Chris Marais
The attractive little town of Cradock nestles in a ring of low-lying hills and crested with red winter blooms of Aloe ferox plants.
It began life as a frontier supply depot to adventurers, miners and hunters traveling into the vast Karoo plains to the west, swinging northwards to the great diamond and gold fields of the old Transvaal. Wagon builders, blacksmiths and engineers rubbed shoulders with local farmers, clerics and soldiers in the elegant town square.
Olive Schreiner, who was to become a world famous writer and pioneer feminist, first came to Cradock as a young girl of 12 years to live with three of her siblings at #9 Cross Street.
Three years later the older brother, Theo, who was their keeper, went off to the diamond fields and for a few years Olive was passed for keeping to various family members and friends. Thereafter she returned to the district as a governess, and began her writing of her seminal work, The Story Of An African Farm.
Cradock Tourism puts it this way:
“After she left the town she had a glorious career of writing, tilting at windmills, upsetting apple carts, infuriating the powerful and championing the underdog at a time when the underdogs needed all the champions they could get. Her house in Cradock is preserved as it was when she lived there and is a declared heritage site. After her death her body and those of her infant daughter and her favourite dog were brought back to the area and were interred in a sarcophagus on top of the Buffelskop Mountain.”
And although Cradock is known today at the flashpoint of the Anti-Apartheid struggle of the mid-1980s, its history of defiance originates from the Anglo-Boer War, during which it temporarily became a base for Boer guerillas fighting the might of the British Empire, who came streaming up in their brigades from docking ports all along the Cape coast.
The double decades of the 1930s and -40s saw the rise of one JA Calata, ANC general secretary and Anglican Church minister who found himself banned during the Defiance Campaign of 1952, when close to 10 000 volunteers or ‘defiers’ were imprisoned for peacefully refusing to obey Apartheid laws.
But it was Matthew Goniwe who captured the imagination of an oppressed black population in the 1980s, when he pioneered the struggle against Apartheid upon his return from a four-year prison sentence under the old Suppression of Communism Act. He set up the Cradock Residents’ Association (Cradora) and took on the contentious issues of rent increases, which led to consumer boycotts of white businesses in the town.
The authorities were outraged by Goniwe’s political involvement. As a school principal, he was obviously expected to “lead by example” among his students.
He was transferred to Graaff-Reinet in November 1983 – a step Goniwe refused. He was summarily dismissed, sparking a school boycott at Lingelihle township that lasted for 15 months and involved about 7000 students and residents, demanding his reinstatement.
The students demanded student representative councils in their schools, extra textbooks and more qualified teachers.
The township had become ungovernable and on March 30, 1984, thinking that this might end the confrontation and cow the opposition, the security police jailed Goniwe, and two other UDF and community leaders, Mbulelo Goniwe and Fort Calata, the chairman of the Cradock Youth Association (Cradoya), under Section 28 of the Internal Security Act.
They were released on October 10, much to the jubilation of the residents who gave them a heroes’ welcome.
Meanwhile the regime had had enough of Goniwe and his political activities and behind the scenes, a sinister “final solution” was being worked out by the security police, to “permanently remove” him from society.
On June 27, 1985, Goniwe phoned Derrick Swartz, UDF secretary in the Eastern Cape at the time, confirming that later that day he would be in Port Elizabeth for a UDF meeting.
He did not know that the police had listened in on the conversation, enabling them to plan an ambush of Goniwe and his comrades.
That morning, Goniwe left for Port Elizabeth as planned, informing his wife that he would return the same evening. With him were comrades and friends Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli.
After the meetings, Goniwe and his comrades left for Cradock at about 9.10pm. They did not know that six Special Branch members from Port Elizabeth were about to waylay them at Olifantshoek pass. At about 10pm, their car reached the pass, immediately followed by the assassins’ two cars.
Just before Middleton, the two police cars overtook Goniwe and mounted a roadblock. The victims were ordered out of the car, handcuffed, driven to Bluewater Bay, Port Elizabeth, and killed.
Over the next few days the badly burnt and mutilated bodies of the Cradock Four, as they came to be known, were discovered in different areas around Port Elizabeth.
The regime had finally silenced Goniwe and his comrades…
A prize-winning documentary on the Cradock 4 – produced by David Forbes – is on sale at the Victoria Manor in Cradock for R120.