The Cradock Four

Matthew Goniwe


A principled and popular school teacher whose organisational abilities made him a “thorn in the flesh” of Apartheid’s generals.

Fort Calata


A school teacher and radical youth leader who, with Matthew, created a major headache for the regime.

Sparrow Mkonto


A railway worker and unionist who was fired unfairly and helped lead the youth movement.

Sicelo Mhlauli


A school friend of Matthew, and activist in his own right, came along that fateful night “to catch up on old times”.

Late on the winter night of 27 June 1985, South African security forces set up a roadblock to intercept a car near the city of Port Elizabeth. Two of the four anti-Apartheid activists in the car had been secretly targeted for assassination.


Matthew Goniwe was a popular teacher in Cradock, and also a revolutionary. Fort Calata, another teacher and activist was also on the hit list. Sparrow Mkonto, a railway union activist, and Sicelo Mhlauli, a visiting headmaster and childhood friend, were also in the car. They were never seen alive again.


The police abducted the four and murdered them in cold blood. Their burnt bodies were found later near the Port Elizabeth suburb of Bluewater Bay. The murders are one of Apartheid’s murkiest episodes.


Matthew’s death was a turning point in the struggle. On the day of the funeral of the Cradock Four, President PW Botha declared a State of Emergency. It was the beginning of the end. Within five years, Nelson Mandela would walk free and lead the country to liberty.




The death of these gallant freedom fighters marked a turning point in the history of our Struggle. No longer could the regime govern in the old way. They were the true heroes of the struggle.”

Nelson Mandela

Last Updated on 10 February 2014