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. The four were never seen alive again.
The police abducted them and murdered them in cold blood, stabbing them many times. Their separated and 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 Cradock Four
Martyrs of The Struggle – Murdered by the Security Forces in 1985
Their noble ideals betrayed by the SACP and ANC government
A principled and popular school teacher whose organisational abilities made him a thorn in the flesh of Apartheid generals.
A school teacher and radical youth leader who, with Matthew, created a major headache for the regime.
A railway worker and unionist who was fired unfairly and helped lead the youth movement.
A school friend of Matthew, and an activist in his own right, who came along that fateful night "to catch up on old times".
Page last updated on 2 April 2020
This photograph is often mistaken as a photograph of the Cradock Four, but in fact that is incorrect.
It is a photograph of four Cradock activists released after six months in detention (from left) Mbulelo Goniwe (Matthew's cousin), Madoda Jacobs, headboy at Matthew's school, Fort Calata, and Matthew Goniwe (right).
Other errors that crept into news reports in 1985 (and have subsequently been repeated to this day by lazy journalists) is the misspelling of two names: that of Sparrow Mkonto (not Mkhonto) and Sicelo Mhlauli (not Malawuli). The gravestones should correct these errors forever.