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Story behind Cradock Four picture

Surviving activist believes he narrowly escaped the brutal assassination, writes Zandile Mbabela

THEIR faces are widely known – they are often believed to have been two of Cradock’s most famous anti-apartheid activist groupings, the so-called Cradock Four.

But Mbulelo Goniwe and Madoda “Dopla” Jacobs were not part of the ill-fated trip to Port Elizabeth that saw Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli brutally killed by security police.

Instead, just a few months before the Cradock Four’s death – on October 9 1984 – they were photographed with Matthew and Calata in front of the Goniwe family home in Cradock’s Lingelihle Township.

Mbulelo Goniwe, Matthew’s nephew who also played a big role in the liberation struggle in the area, went on to hold numerous positions in government until he was fired as ANC parliamentary chief whip following a sexual harassment scandal.

Jacobs, a former student of Matthew and a political force at the time, survived on low-paying odd jobs until he died a pauper in 2003.

In the famous photograph the four – Mbulelo Goniwe, Matthew Goniwe, Madoda Jacobs and Fort Calata – were seeing each other for the first since their release from detention.

Mbulelo, the only one in the photo still alive, believes the four people in the photo were meant to have been the Cradock Four as they were sought by security police.

“Before the picture was taken, there was this signal mentioning people that had to be killed. My name was there on that signal,” he said.

“We were the four targeted people of Cradock, so in a sense one can say that is the legit Cradock Four as targeted by the state at the time. It was just a coincidence that Madoda and I were not on that trip . . . because they left here on the 27th [June 1985], which was a Thursday, after we had a meeting celebrating the Freedom Charter.

“I regret the confusion. It is a very close coincidence that four people [were in a photo together] and four people were killed, but we understand the context. It was a long time ago. That time people were aware of who we were, but I guess as time went memories have faded.

“So it gives me mixed feelings because of how close it actually was that we would have been dead by now, but also these are people that we were with who were killed very brutally.”

Meanwhile, in a bright yellow house on Ntshololo Street, Madoda’s mother Irene and older brother Wanki recall his personal struggle after political achieved in 1994.

Madoda was not as lucky as some of his freedom fighting peers, having had to survive on low-paying odd jobs to support himself and his family.

Irene said the family was often bitter that their son, who actively fought for the country’s freedom, died so poor that the ANC had to freedom was foot his funeral bill, but Madoda thought differently.

“He released us from our anger. Before he died, he told us not to begrudge the liberation movement. He always told us that he had done his part and that was reward enough for him,” she said.

“We’re not bitter at all. He may not have the fame that others enjoy globally, but he was very well known around Cradock as a hard worker for the ANC and the struggle for liberation.

“Granted, freedom is not just about being free to go anywhere, but about freedom to make money to send your children to school. He never enjoyed that freedom as his children had to drop out of school due to lack of funds.”

The families are disappointed in the TRC. “From the TRC, there has been no attempt that we are aware of as the family to bring their killers to justice. All of them were denied amnesty because they lied and continued to lie,” Mbulelo said.

One of the Cradock Four killers, Gerard Lotz, killed himself last month.