Review: Vivien Horler
My Father Died for This, by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata (Tafelberg)
Imagine if you were a three-year-old and this was your first memory.
“Once at the gravesite I remember holding on to my mother’s dress, too afraid of letting go. The up-and-down stamping by toyi-toyiing mourners shook the ground under my feet. I had never felt anything like that before, and I remember being so afraid of the ground collapsing underneath me.”
Despite dredging his memory, Lukhanyo Calata cannot remember a single moment with the father who by all accounts doted on him. Fort Calata, one of the Cradock Four, was murdered by the South African security police in June 1985. His older daughter Dorothy was almost 10, Fort was three, and his younger daughter, Tumani, was not yet born. His wife, Nomonde, was just 26.
In 1948, an English cricketer voiced what has become a famous aphorism: “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”
And so, on June 27, 2016, on the 31st anniversary of his father’s death, SABC journalist Lukhanyo Calato issued a statement in which he accused the public broadcaster of curbing media freedom.
“As I reflect on this day and remember the occasions when leaders of our liberation movements stood at my father’s grave and waxed lyrical about the freedom he died for, I wonder where they are today. How do they live with themselves? How do they watch as the rights and freedoms the ‘Cradock Four’ were brutally murdered for are systematically being undone?”
The statement led to Calata becoming one of the “SABC Eight” who lost their jobs after protesting against then COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision to forbid the broadcasting of news of violent service delivery protests. The Eight included Suna Venter, 32, who died almost a year ago of “stress cardiomyopathy”, which her family believe was caused or exacerbated by the strains of her last year.
Lukhanyo is the son of Fort, and Fort was the grandson of Canon James Arthur Calata, a Cradock clergyman, former secretary-general of the ANC from 1936 to 1949, and a Rivonia trialist.
Given this history, there seems to be an inevitability to Lukhanyo’s activism, and in acceptance of this he and his wife Abigail dedicate the book to: “Our son, Kwezi, and the next generation of revolutionaries.”
His history led Lukhanyo to journalism. He wrote in his statement that the point of his chosen career was to tell the stories of his people with dedication, truth and freedom. “A freedom that many like my father either died or were imprisoned for.”
In the turbulent mid-1980s the little Eastern Cape town of Cradock became the epicentre of protest against the apartheid government. Activists like teachers Fort Calata and Matthew Goniwe, and railway worker Sparro Mlonto, travelled the region organising and raising awareness. Boycotts of local businesses and a long-running schools boycott followed.
The fourth member of the Cradock Four, Oudtshoorn teacher Sicelo Mhlawuli who was a long-term friend of Goniwe, just happened to be in the car when the security police stopped them at a roadblock on the Olifantskop Pass on the night of June 27 1985.
Their burnt and mutilated bodies were found a few days later.
In a recent interview with Lukhanyo, former United Democratic Front leader Allan Boesak said he discovered in the 80s that Cradock was “a special place” because of its struggle history and its residents’ conscious link to that history, in part inspired by Canon Calata.
The book begins with Lukhanyo’s own experiences with the SABC, and then moves on to his family and the influence of his great-grandfather in the Cradock area.
Drawing on interviews with many of the people who were around at the time, including his mother, Lukhanyo writes about the 1980s and the increasing levels of protest activism in the Eastern Cape, which alarmed and infuriated the authorities of the day. Their response in this context culminated in the murders of the Cradock Four.
Just hours after the funeral, attended by an estimated 60 000 people, former president PW Botha imposed the first state of emergency to be declared in South Africa since the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960.
In this book Lukhanyo reveals himself to be a reasonable and likeable man. But he’s also an angry one. His final chapter, titled A Life Betrayed, discusses the outrage that swept the country in 1992 when the New Nation newspaper revealed the signal sent between the authorities ordering the “permanent removal from society” of the men who became known as the Cradock Four.
Later, six policemen applied for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation’s Amnesty Committee. The application was denied – but they have never been charged.
Last year, Lukhanyo interviewed deputy justice minister John Jeffery on why the ANC government had failed to prosecute. Jeffery said it was part of the negotiated transition to democracy: “That was part of the price that had to be paid.”
Lukhanyo rejects this. He says the ANC government’s failure to pursue justice in this and many other cases “is the greatest betrayal which we could have imagined”.
He concludes that it is vital to speak up or act when confronted by injustice – “that is, after all, the legacy of my family…”
Written in clear and mostly unemotional prose, this book shines a light on a time we cannot afford to forget.
- This review also appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday of June 10, 2018