Cradock Four families want justice

Cradock Four Garden of Remembrance in Lingelihle township, Cradock in honour of slain activists Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE

Cradock Four Garden of Remembrance in Lingelihle township, Cradock in honour of slain activists Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE

Published Jan 8, 2024


Durban — Phumani Calata has long accepted the reality of growing up with no experience of the tender care her Struggle stalwart father Fort Calata gave her siblings and mother, but she hopes a new inquest will finally produce justice for the family after his murder in 1985.

Fort Calata and three fellow anti-apartheid activists, Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, were detained by apartheid police in Gqeberha on June 27, 1985. Their burned and stabbed bodies were found days later.

Phumani was born two weeks after the murders, which still make headlines today.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola announced on Friday that the department would reopen the inquest on the men who became known as the Cradock Four. The announcement was made in a press statement which said there was new evidence which had never been presented.

A previous court of inquiry implicated six former police officers who applied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for amnesty. The former officers were Harold Snyman, Eric Alexandra Taylor, Gerhardus Johannes Lotz, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Johan van Zyl and Hermanus Barend du Plessis. According to the statement, former colonel Eugene de Kock was pardoned for his role in the murders.

Calata said even if the inquest led to her father’s murderers facing justice, nothing would completely heal the wounds opened by the three-decade-old crime. “What this inquest would do is give some sort of healing; the families would be able to take some type of relief.

“But I don’t think the wounds that were caused by the apartheid regime and then by our own government by neglecting this matter for so many years will ever be fully closed and wounds properly healed. Nevertheless, the family is looking for justice,” she said.

There have been two inquiries to establish the circumstances that led to the murders. The second one resulted in a judge concluding that the four were kidnapped and killed by apartheid police, but did not identify suspects.

Since the murder robbed her of a chance to know her father, Calata’s memories of him were only based on what she heard family and contemporaries say about his heroism.

Calata said that her parents had met when her mother, Nomonde, was just “14 or 15 years old”.

“They got married when my mother was 21 and my dad was 24. They were together for 11 years and they were married for five of those years.

“He was a loving and joking husband and she smiled every time she talked about him,” she said.

Calata believed the instruction to kill the men might have come from the top of the apartheid government.

Mathew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli who were known as the Cradock Four lie in this grave. The four men were killed by security forces in June 1985. The TRC heard evidence of how they were killed and why the police had deemed their lives expendable. Picture: Benny Gool. 24/2/1998

University of KwaZulu-Natal political analyst Sakhile Hadebe said he did not believe that reopening investigations into crimes committed during apartheid would lead to arrests because perpetrators might be too old – “if not already dead”.

“Things came out of the TRC but there were no follow-ups. There would be very few perpetrators still alive and those who would still be alive might be too old, possibly at the age of 80 or close to 90 years old.

“It would be more of a political stance that we met this person who apologised like they did to Frank Chikane a few years back. I think it would be more of a political stance than anything else,” said Hadebe.

However, legal expert Mpumelelo Zikalala said he believed the inquest was necessary for the families to get some justice. He said anyone suspected of a crime could be prosecuted at any age.

“The only thing is the type of punishment and where you will serve the sentence,” said Zikalala.

“If there is still evidence that can lead to conviction, regardless of the age, if a person is found guilty, definitely he would go to jail.

“It would be up to Correctional Services how to deal with the person because of his age and health status as he might serve only one month and be released on medical parole,” he said.

Lamola would now have to approach the Eastern Cape Judge President through section 17A (1) of the Inquests Act 58 of 1959, to appoint a judge to reopen and direct the inquest.

Zikalala said the period for which the inquest would run would depend on the evidence already available.

“You will find that once you decide which date it would be heard, presentations might take one week. Then the judge would draft the judgment and if the judge sees some loopholes, he would ask for further investigation and continue with the inquiry.

“But I suspect they would not have initiated the inquest if the investigation had not already started.”

Zikalala said he believed there was little for police to investigate at this stage.

Sunday Tribune