YUNUS OMAR focuses on the slain activists in direct relation to the injustices in education.
JUNE 27, 1985: at the height of the renewed and highly organised nationwide rebellion against the apartheid regime in South Africa, four South African compatriots vanished without trace while travelling between Port Elizabeth (now renamed Gqeberha) and Cradock. They would become known as ‘The Cradock Four’.
Their names are scorched into South Africa’s proud history of resistance against, first, colonial oppression by the Dutch and the British, and then against racial-capitalist oppression under the National Party and those who aided and abetted the Nationalists. The names of ‘The Cradock Four’ were Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli.
The savagery of the killings of ‘The Cradock Four’ was, in part, laid bare at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings. They had been stopped and kidnapped, beaten, maimed, stabbed and killed, and their bodies burnt. Their families were not told of the whereabouts of their dead loved ones.
As important as it is, the focus here is not on the lies and cover-ups of those who applied for amnesty for their killings. Rather, this article places into focus the lives of people like ‘The Cradock Four’, and asks whether their lives and deaths are truly honoured in post-apartheid South Africa.
Coming at the end of the national holiday that we commemorate each year on June 16, now named Youth Day, this article focuses on an aspect of the lives of ‘The Cradock Four’ that is directly related to education. Three of ‘The Cradock Four’ were teachers, and their comrade Sparrow Mkonto worked for the South African Railways. All four were seasoned community activists, and had been arrested, detained and tortured before their murders in 1985.
Matthew Goniwe and his close friend, Fort Calata, taught at the same school, Sam Xhallie Secondary School, in Cradock, while Sicelo Mhlauli had begun his teaching career in Zwelitsha, King Williams Town, but was hounded out because of his political activism. He became principal at Archie Velile Secondary, in Dimbaza, and later accepted the post of principal at a school in Bongolwethu, Oudtshoorn.
Sparrow Mkonto had been a student of Matthew Goniwe at Sam Xhallie Secondary School. All four of the murdered ‘Cradock Four’ had deep family-friendship roots that spanned several decades.
For the purposes of this short piece, our focus is on their struggles for justice in their roles as teachers, teacher-principals and railway workers. All three used their work as a means of livelihood but also as a site of organising and recruiting people into the broader liberation struggle.
The testimony of how they were killed should set aside any thought that apartheid was acceptable. It was a system based on a denial of people being fully human. Its founders, supporters and its machinery of war maintained this inhumane system by murdering its opponents, if need be. This should never be forgotten, and ‘Youth Day’ must once again become a vibrant day of revisiting the lives and deaths of those who paid for our freedoms with their lives.
‘The Cradock Four’ had been part of the struggles of 1976, when young people in Soweto became an eternal symbol of intelligence and bravery in opposing draconian language-of-instruction policies in schools for indigenous Black Africans under the then Department of Education and Training (DET).
These four young men, in the prime of their lives, worked tirelessly to establish civic organisations to fight for the rights of oppressed communities, and were part of struggles of ordinary people throughout their adult lives.
Have we honoured their memories properly? The fact that the vast majority of our schools remain under-resourced, dangerous spaces for adults and young people, is a stinging reminder that the promise of free, equal education has not been delivered.
46 years since 1976, and 37 years after the murders of three activist-teachers and a railway worker, the daily schooling educational experiences of the vast majority of young people (almost all of them young Black children) are simply worlds away from the former Model-C schools in the leafy suburbs.
We dare not live our lives claiming to be ignorant of this fact. If we truly ‘wish for our brothers what we wish for ourselves’, we must work actively to demand justice in the form of well-resourced schools, everywhere in our country, not just in the former ‘whites-only’ suburbs and schools of our country.
Sources: https://sabctrc.saha.org.za/tvseries/episode33/section2/transcript18.htm?t=%2BCradock+%2BFour&tab=tv; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cradock_Four; Derek Charles Catsam’s ‘Permanently Removed From Society’: The Cradock Four, The TRC, Moral Judgments, Historical Truth, And The Dilemmas Of Contemporary History.
- Yunus Omar (PhD) lectures in the School of Education at the University of Cape Town. He writes in his personal capacity.
This article was first published in the June 24, 2022 print edition of Muslim Views.