Matthew Goniwe 2004


Matthew Goniwe was born on the 27th of December 1947 in Cradock, to two farm labourers, David and Elizabeth, the youngest of eight children. He matriculated from Healdtown, and then went on to study towards a teaching diploma at the University of Fort Hare. After completing his studies, he started his teaching career in Cradock, and became a much loved and respected teacher during the 1980s.

During his time as a teacher, Goniwe became very involved in community concerns regarding high rent and bad infrastructure, and formed the Cradock Residents’ Association (Cradora). He also became involved with the United Democratic Front and worked underground for both the SACP and Umkhonto we Sizwe. His activities soon aroused the interest of the Security Police.

Goniwe was under constant surveillance and after his last meeting, at the house of UDF activist Michael Coetzee, he refused the invitation of his friend Derrick Swartz, the current Vice-Chancellor of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, to stay over and not travel at night. This was the last time his friends ever saw him alive.

On the night of 27 June 1985, the Security Forces abducted Goniwe, along with Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli at a roadblock they had set up near Port Elizabeth. They were murdered and burnt, their mutilated bodies found near Bluewater Bay. They were to become known as “The Cradock Four”. Their funeral was attended by thousands of mourners openly and defiantly displaying banned ANC and SACP flags and banners.  Later that day, as a response, Prime Minister PW Botha declared a State of Emergency in the country. Many historians consider that day as marking the beginning of the end for apartheid rule in South Africa.

When Nelson Mandela visited the gravesite of the Cradock Four on the tenth anniversary of their deaths, he said: “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.”

Matthew Goniwe received an honorary doctorate (posthumously) from the former University of Port Elizabeth in 2004, for having been a remarkable teacher and for having a passion to care for and empower people.