There was a brief period in the mid-1980s when a rural town brought to life what the Freedom Charter meant by the ideal “The People Shall Govern.”
It was 1985 and that town was Cradock. More specifically it was the township of iLingelihle – the home of Fort Calata, Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkonto and many other heroes of our Struggle.
The three, together with Oudtshoorn teacher Sicelo Mhlauli, would later become known as the Cradock Four.
They were murdered by an apartheid hit squad after being ambushed while returning home after a UDF meeting they had attended in Port Elizabeth in mid-1985.
Like the indomitable Gauls of my favourite childhood comic books, Asterix and Obelix, who held off the Romans, the people of iLingelihle would not be moved.
Cradock would show the blueprint for resistance for the rural oppressed of South Africa to counter apartheid in a way the government of the day would never have anticipated.
It moved the apartheid government to contrive a village council of apathetic leaders to control the municipality with the town as one of its guinea pigs. But they were no match for the formidable civic movements of Cradock, aligned to the UDF and formed by teachers and activists Calata and Goniwe.
In the first few days of January 1985, these council officials eventually relented and resigned in the midst of a 15-month school boycott as part of a tireless campaign by the community and its leaders. Cradock – and specifically Goniwe and Calata – was a headache for the apartheid regime.
This brief window of self-governance, free from the reach of the brutal regime, is described in a new book My Father Died for This, co-written by husband and wife team Abigail and Lukhanyo Calata.
Lukhanyo, the son of Fort Calata who was just 3 when his father and comrades were murdered, writes of that time: “The resignations of the members of the town council had effectively rendered iLingelihle a ‘liberated zone’.
“The small location boasting around 24000 residents was no longer governed in any way by the apartheid government.
“The people of iLingelihle through Cradora (Cradock Residents’ Association) were governing themselves. They, and they alone, were the ones deciding the kind of future they wanted for themselves and their children. The people of my home town were now the masters of their own destinies.”
How powerful is that? In the months that followed, the people indeed governed.
The community started a literacy programme for those affected by the school boycotts and opened a crèche as well as an advice centre to administer grants for the aged, children and disabled.
The Cradock Youth Association was responsible for community safety. Lukhanyo’s mother, Nomonde Calata, recalled that during that period iLingelihle had been virtually crime free.
Apartheid brigadier Joffel van der Westhuizen wrote in a report: “Goniwe played a prominent role in the aforementioned revolutionary onslaught in the Eastern Province. He was one of the leaders of the United Democratic Front and to the best of my knowledge, Cradock was the very first town in the Republic of South Africa where they successfully implemented alternative structures (of government).”
But such an uprising came at grave costs. In June 1985 a plan was made by the state security cabinet and endorsed by PW Botha to assassinate Goniwe and Calata.
Abigail and Lukhanyo take great care in their book to establish the genesis for activism in Cradock with the arrival of Lukhanyo’s great-grandfather and Fort’s grandfather, Canon James Arthur Calata.
Canon Calata worked tirelessly for decades to improve the lot of black people in the town. His work eventually saw him elevated to secretary-general of the ANC, succeeded years later by Walter Sisulu.
Canon Calata took his grandson Fort under his care and would lay the foundation for activism in Lukhanyo’s father. The legacy from grandfather to grandson would set the tone for iLingelihle’s resistance as Fort later joined forces with Goniwe.
In the unfolding chapters, Lukhanyo movingly documents the harrowing days of unrest leading up to the murder of his father and the rest of the Cradock Four. He writes of the powerful funeral that followed, which bolstered the resolve of the people even further.
He then bravely and painstakingly details the betrayal by the very movement the Calatas had played such a seminal role in to help liberate South Africa and the lingering agony that his father’s killers were never brought to book.
As one reflects on this book just days after another celebration of our liberation this past Freedom Day, we dare not forget. My Father Died for This makes sure we never forget the sacrifices made by so many for that freedom.
* Follow more of Abarder’s musings on Twitter – @GasantAbarder.
Click here to Book Accommodation in Cradock, Graaf Reinett, Hofmeyer or surrounds.
Article source: https://www.iol.co.za/weekend-argus/opinion/cradock-got-freedom-charters-ideal-of-the-people-shall-govern-14805903