South Africa


My Father Died for This: A history of the Calata family

My Father Died for This: A history of the Calata family

When the Cradock Four’s Fort Calata was murdered by agents of the apartheid state in 1985, his son Lukhanyo was only three years old. Lukhanyo, now a journalist, became one of the SABC Eight when he defied Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s reign of censorship at the public broadcaster by writing an open letter that declares: My father didn’t die for this. With his wife Abigail, Lukhanyo brings to life the father he never knew and investigates the mystery that surrounds his death despite two high-profile inquests. It also unravels the family’s struggle against apartheid, beginning with Fort’s grandfather, Treason Trialist and ANC Secretary-General the Rev James Calata.

This is an extract from My Father Died For This, by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata, published by Tafelberg.

My mother remembered a heavy fatigue descending on her as day broke on 20 July. “On the day of the funeral, I was tired,” she said. “I was so very tired. And I was not myself. I was just surrounded by darkness.”

That morning, she would defiantly wear a dress in the black, green, and gold colours of the ANC.

The remains arrived in Cradock quite early that Saturday morning. My father’s coffin was brought and placed on the stoep of Tatou’s home, almost on the exact spot where his grandfather’s coffin had stood just two years previously. The remains of the other three men were taken to their respective homes.

Paul Verryn would insist that the coffin with my father’s remains not be opened, in a bid to shield my mother from the trauma of seeing her husband’s badly mutilated body. On my father’s death certificate, the cause of death is ascribed to “stab wounds to the heart and the consequences thereof”. What it neglects to mention is the number of times he was stabbed – at least 25 times. It also doesn’t mention that his tongue and several fingers on his left hand were cut off. His body, and in particular his face, was then doused with petrol and set alight – to make identification difficult.

Despite this, one of my mother’s biggest regrets was that she never got to see my father’s body. Over the years, she always wondered if it would’ve helped her gain closure on his death if she had insisted on seeing his lifeless body one last time before he was buried.

On the day of the funeral, my mother said that I was still struggling to come to terms with my father’s death. She told the story of how I had come to call her after I had just seen “my father” get onto one of the many buses parked outside the house in Mongo Street. She said I wanted the two of us to slip out the back and join “Tata” on the bus. She answered, “Tata is not there. He is in that red thing, there on the stoep. “You said, ‘No! He is not there. I saw him, believe me.’”

I actually remember this incident and how I had begun to pull her towards the back of the house, which was closest to the bus I had “seen” my father get onto.

My uncle Patutu had to explain to me again that my father had passed away, and therefore could not be on one of the buses outside. My mother recalled that I pinched her to express my displeasure with her telling on me like that. Paul Verryn would then insist that the bus be moved from where it was parked.

After the home service was concluded, the four families then accompanied the coffins to the stadium, where thousands of mourners were braving the bitterly cold winter morning. My mother remembered the guard of honour lining the streets from Tatou’s home to the stadium.

There were people everywhere, in the streets, even on the rooftops of houses. Everywhere you looked, you just saw people,” she said.

Mene recalled that as the funeral got under way, they had to go back to the church (a distance of approximately four kilometres) to transfer the flags to the stadium.

The police are all over at the stadium, in Isikhulu Street, eLuxolweni Street, going all the way around. It’s all closed off by the police. Those flags were huge, but Mbulelo had a bakkie.

We feared that they’d be taken by the police if they saw us transport them to the stadium. There were about four guys including Nchabeleng and Stanza Bopape, who were MK cadres at the time, who then drew their AK47s and said, ‘We will go with those flags.’ We put them into the bakkie and then we drove towards the stadium. Luckily, there were no issues. It was like a miracle, you know. Police and soldiers opened up just like that and we passed through. When we were around six houses to the stadium, we started looking for guys who are huge to carry the flags. I could not carry the flags myself. It had to be huge guys who could carry those flags. When they carried those flags and they got into the stadium, it was a miracle. The whole stadium just went up and said, ‘ANC, ANC, ANC!’ And those flags were coming in, you know.

It was very nice. The journalists … the photos they took there, were so beautiful photos.”

On the funeral programme was the quote: “The blood of our martyrs will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of our liberation.”

Unfortunately – but understandably – my mother also didn’t remember much of the speeches or anything else of that day. She did remember crying through most of it and being seated next to Ma Leah, the wife of Desmond Tutu, then Bishop of Johannesburg, upon our arrival at the stadium. Pictures show that my maternal grandmother Nothobile stayed close to her.

I can’t remember what was said,” my mother told me. “I saw Stone Sizani and them talking, the bishop [Bruce Evans] and everybody else. I really can’t remember. Sometimes I so wish the recordings were not confiscated by the police, so that we could play it back and listen to what was said.” DM


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