Biography of Matthew Goniwe

26 DECEMBER 1946 – 27 JUNE 1985 (AGE 38)

Matthew Goniwe was born on 26 December 1946 in the old Cradock location in a section called Emagqubeni. Due to the Group Areas Act, the old location was demolished and in 1962, Africans, who were called Bantus,were resettled in Lingelihle whilst the Coloureds were resettled in Michausdal. The Goniwe family was resettled in Lingelihle.



n 1953, Matthew started school at St James Primary School. At an early age, one of his brothers, Jamani Jacques Goniwe, posed a political influence on him. As a result Matthew joined the ANC in 1958. In 1960, whilst he was completing his last class of primary schooling in Bantu Education at St. James Primary School, he joined the local Communist Party. With the ANC banned in 1960, he attended underground political classes of the ANC and those of the Communist Party respectively. His brother Jamani had recruited him to the Communist Party. Jamani, with some of the Cradock youth (Ben Ngalo, Zoni Silwane, Thamsanqa John, Tatini Melani, Gangathumlungu Hlekani) joined the exiled ANC and they became part of Umkhonto Wesizwe.

Matthew Goniwe joined the local boxing club. He also became a member of the Cradock Male Voice Choir. From 1961 to 1963 he did part of his high school education at Cradock Bantu Secondary School. He was a dedicated student. From 1964 to 1965 he completed his high school education at Healdtown College near Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. In this institution he was a member of the Moral Regeneration Movement and that of the Healdtown Church Choir. He became part of small school strikes.



At the end of 1965 Matthew passed matric (Grade 12) at Healdtown. From 1966 to 1967 he undertook full-time studies at Fort Hare University where he studied for a Teacher’s Diploma (STD). He majored in Mathematics, Education and Natural Sciences (Physics and Chemistry). At this historical conjuncture Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was in its formative stages. Matthew was attracted to its view that Africans should learn to develop themselves and avoid the dependency syndrome. He engaged in debates over black consciousness and the revolution in Vietnam.



From 1968 to 1972 Matthew taught Mathematics and Science subjects at Cradock Bantu Secondary School. Some of his students became doctors, science and mathematics teachers, community leaders and business people. He integrated politics in his lessons. His intention was that the learners should understand how they were oppressed and how they should liberate themselves through education.

At the beginning of February 1972, he left his teaching post at Cradock Bantu Secondary School to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree. He went to the University of Fort Hare for registration. Though he had applied the previous year and was accepted, he was shocked when university authorities informed him that spaces for the BSC degree in Mathematics and Natural Sciences were reserved for young applicants straight from high school. He thus had to search for a teaching post.



During 1972 Matthew taught at Sithebe Secondary School within the Dutywa area not very far from Mthatha, the capital town of the then homeland of Transkei. During the same year in Mthatha, he met Meluxolo Silinga with whom he later on, in the company of Dumisa Ntsebeza, Lungisile Ntsebeza, and Michael Mgodolozi, formed a Marxist cell.

In January 1973 he joined Holomisa High School at Mqanduli in the Bityi Village about 40 kilometers from Mthatha. The principal was John Hlekani, an ANC stalwart from Cradock, who once taught Matthew at Cradock Bantu Secondary School at the time he was a principal there. Holomisa High School was housed in a dilapidated church building. Matthew, as a progressive teacher and a transformative intellectual, worked with local people to renovate the building. He established a feeding scheme assisted by his liberal friend, Young, in Port Elizabeth who was a businessman. In establishing this project he was trying to counteract the negative effects of poor background on the learning of the students. He was sensitive to sociological and financial problems experienced by the students. He further established, in this school , a school choir, boxing club, soccer club, debating society and a rugby club.



Matthew established a Marxist cell movement with Dumisa Ntsebeza, Lungisile Ntsebeza, Meluxolo Silinga and Michael Mgodolozi. He was committed to the establishment of a just society. This was the vison of their Marxist cell movement, which they later called Peoples’ United Front for the Liberation of South Africa. In short form, they nominated it The Front. They used it to create a revolutionary climate in South Africa so that the liberation movement could take over at an appropriate time.

They established Marxist cells in educational institutions, such as Fort Hare, and in towns such as Mqanduli, Mthatha, Whittlesea and King Williamstown. In 1975 Dumisa, Lungisile, Meluxolo and Michael were arrested. A mole inside The Front had betrayed them. Matthew was arrested in July 1976. They were held in detention, in Wellington Maximum Prison, Mthatha till their case was decided in court in September 1977. They were sentenced four years in prison, under the Suppression of Communism Act, except for Michael who received a suspended sentence of four years.



Matthew was released from prison in October 1981. He was head-hunted for a teaching post at Nqweba High School in Graaff Reinet. He was both the Head of the Department of Science and Mathematics and an acting principal. In January 1983 he was appointed a principal at Sam Xhali Secondary School in the Lingelihle township of Cradock. Fort Calata worked in this school as a teacher under Matthew. The latter promoted unity and culture of teaching and learning in this school. He would visit homes of learners to see how their home backgrounds affected them at school.

Matthew started political underground activities at the request of the exiled ANC. He introduced activists to the theory of National Democratic Struggle and that of discipline. As an ethical visionary he linked theory, practice and ethics. On 20 August 1983 a national organisation called the United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed for fighting apartheid. The Lingelihle community became part of the UDF through the Cradock Residents Association (CRADORA). Matthew became chairperson of CRADORA. He stood in the forefront of fighting high rents, apartheid local government structures (Black Local Authorities), the Tricameral parliament and their elections. Matthew motivated people to be change agents who were the embodiment of the New South Africa. To make this effective, he led CRADORA to the formation of street committees and area committees. This was part of what is called the Goniwe Plan (G-Plan) which the UDF
adopted nationally.



At the end of 1983 Matthew received a letter transferring him back to Nqweba High School where he was to start teaching there in January 1984. He rejected this transfer; the Lingelihle community backed him. The Lingelihle students boycotted classes against Matthew’s transfer to Nqweba. On 31 March 1984 Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Madoda Jacobs and Mbulelo Goniwe were detained on the suspicion that they were instigators of the school boycott which directly and indirectly led to further school boycotts within many communities in South Africa. There was mounting pressure upon the government to release Matthew and three other leaders. The school boycotts gravitated to a demand of a democratic New South Africa.

Whilst in detention he was dismissed from teaching. He was released from detention in October 1984. Thereafter he became a permanent member of the Black Sash which was an organisation of white women fighting for human rights. They worked with Matthew to resolve the education crisis in Cradock. With the approval of Matthew, the school boycott was called off on 8 April 1985. He saw the school boycott as a victory over apartheid in the sense that it mobilised people in their numbers into the National Democratic Struggle.



In 1985 Matthew was appointed a UDF organiser. He had to establish liberation associations/ civic organisations, sector organisations and people’s organisations of power (street and area committees) within oppressed communities. He did this in 56 towns/areas. This angered the apartheid state which on 25 May 1985 besieged Lingelihle with military commandos and a low range flying helicopter above Lingelihle, challenging Matthew’s leadership and blackmailing him through a loudspeaker. This made Matthew more determined to fight against apartheid.



On 26 June 1985 CRADORA celebrated the Freedom Charter for its thirty year existence. Matthew delivered a keynote address on the formation of the Freedom Charter by the Congress of the People in 1955 in Kliptown. On the morning of 27 June, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli went, with Matthew’s Honda Ballade, to Port Elizabeth to attend a UDF provincial meeting in the suburb Galvendale.

The meeting dragged on into the evening. On returning home, outside Port Elizabeth, in the bushes of Bluewater bay, they were assassinated by policemen. During the 1996 hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) Nyameka Goniwe, Matthew’s wife, asserted that he frequently received death threats and was harassed by security police. Matthew was survived by Nyameka and two siblings, Nobuzwe and Nyaniso.

Back to About the Cradock 4