Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli became known as 'The Cradock Four' after they were assassinated by security police in July 1985 on their way home from Port Elizabeth. Their deaths sparked such a national outcry that historians have marked the event as 'the beginning of the end of apartheid'.

Did you know?

South African film-maker David Forbes has made an award-winning documentary called The Cradock Four.

Cradock-based Matthew Goniwe captured the imagination of an oppressed black population in the 1980s as a significant anti-apartheid activist upon his return from a four-year prison sentence under the old Suppression of Communism Act.

He set up the Cradock Residents' Association (Cradora) and took on the contentious issues of rent increases, which led to consumer boycotts of white businesses in the little Eastern Cape town.

The authorities were outraged by Goniwe's political involvement.

Goniwe, a teacher in Cradock, was transferred to Graaff-Reinet in November 1983 – a step he refused. He was fired, sparking a school boycott at Lingelihle township in Cradock that lasted for 15 months and involved about 7 000 students and residents, who demanded his reinstatement.

On 27 June 1985, Goniwe made telephonic plans to attend a political meeting in Port Elizabeth later that day. The security police were listening in on the conversation, and this information allowed them to plan the ambush of Goniwe and his comrades.

That morning, Goniwe left for Port Elizabeth (about 250km from Cradock), telling his wife he would be back the same evening. With him were Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli.

After the meeting, the four men left for Cradock just after 9pm. Six Special Branch members from Port Elizabeth were waiting at Olifantskop Pass and followed them down into the Karoo flats.

Just before Middleton, the two police cars overtook Goniwe and his comrades and set up a roadblock. The men were ordered out of the car, handcuffed, driven to Bluewater Bay in Port Elizabeth and killed.

Over the next few days the badly burnt and mutilated bodies of the Cradock Four, as they came to be known, were found in different areas around Port Elizabeth.

News of the death of the Cradock Four spread like wildfire across South Africa. Their funeral in Cradock was the largest political burial in the Eastern Cape since that of the charismatic Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko.

'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,' said South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.

The official Cradock Four display is in a building next to the Fish River Museum in downtown Cradock. The four are now buried in the Lingelihle cemetery.

A massive Cradock Four Memorial Garden has been built on a hill overlooking Lingelihle. You can get access to this spot – and a guide – from the Vusubuntu Info Centre at the entrance to the township.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Fish River Museum (Cradock)
Tel: +27 (0)48 881 4509

Vusubuntu Tourism Info
Tel: +27 (0)48 881 1137

How to get here

Cradock lies on the N10 road to Port Elizabeth (about 250km from Port Elizabeth).

Where to stay

Die Tuishuise, Market Street, Cradock.