Biography of Fort Calata

5 NOVEMBER 1956 – 27 JUNE 1985 (AGE 28)

Fort Calata is the grandson of Reverend Canon James Arthur Calata, a struggle icon. James Calata was part of the Congress Alliance leadership who formulated the clauses of the Freedom Charter in 1955. In 1956 he was arrested for the Treason Trial and detained in Fort Prison in Johannesburg. This was the year during which Fort Calata was born. Fort Calata, the seventh child in his family, was born in Johannesburg on the 5th November 1956. He was called Fort Daniel byhis grandfather, named after the prison and because Reverend Calata said he had come to rescue him from the lion’s den. His mother, Nontsikelelo, took Fort to her home in Cradock when he was two months old. He was nurtured in this home of Ubuntu and heritage of political activism.

 

SCHOOLING

Fort started his educational journey in 1963 at St James, Macembe Lower Primary, Nxuba Higher Primary and Cradock Secondary School. As a child, when police came to his family, Fort would recite passages from the bible celebrating freedom. In 1972 he began playing guitar and drums in a band, The Ambassadors, and later on keyboards for Heartbreakers, until 1977 when he turned down a musical career with Purple Haze to begin a teaching career.

He partially did his teacher training, a JST course, at Lovedale College which was closed down by the homeland government of the then Ciskei. Between 1975 and 1976, during a time of unrest, he became very much involved in politics and stood in solidarity with two Johannesburg students who were shot by police during the 1976 student uprisings. During the time when he was in school, he had typed a letter to the Cradock Municipality, trying to inform them about the way in which they were overworked, and their living conditions. Despite the letter being anonymous, the police traced and identified him as the author of the letter. Fort was detained for this involvement. He completed his Secondary Teachers Diploma at Lennox Sebe Teachers College which was, in post 1994 South Africa, called Griffiths Mxenge College. He specialized in Accounting, Business Economics, Economics and Afrikaans, which he taught in 1979 and 1980 at Dimbaza Guisa High School in Ciskei.

 

TEACHING AND POLITICS

With some ANC exiles in Dimbaza he formed a burial society which served as an underground cell. Together with Sicelo and some young teachers in Dimbaza, he supported the democratic demands of learners. He was a progressive teacher. In 1980 Ciskei security police arrested him and 32 students who were detained for a month.

In 1980 he married Liza Sheila Nomonde, whom he had met in 1974. Their first child, Dorothy was born on the 11th July 1975. Fearing for the safety of his life, his wife Nomonde and his mother Nontsikelelo advised him to apply for a vacant post in Sam Xhali Secondary School. In April 1981 he left Transkei and took up a teaching post at this educational institution, teaching Afrikaans and Xhosa, for standard 6 and 7 students. In January 1983 Matthew became principal of the school.

“HE CAME BACK IN 1983, HE TOLD US THERE WAS A NEW TEACHER AT SCHOOL AND HE LOVES THIS TEACHER
VERY MUCH. THEY ARE COMMUNICATING WELL AND SHARE THE SAME INTERESTS. I WAS ALSO INTERESTED
ABOUT THIS TEACHER AND THEN ONE MORNING WHEN I WAS GOING ON DUTY THIS TEACHER CAME TO VISIT
US. HE INTRODUCED HIM AS MATTHEW GONIWE. HE AND FORT BECAME FRIENDS THEREAFTER.”
– Nomonde Calata [ extract from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (16.04.96)]

On the 2nd December 1983 Fort received a health questionnaire, was demanded a marriage certificate, and was said that he was scratched from permanent staff and put on probation for 12 months. Fort was committed to his teaching just as much he was committed to the struggle of a united, peaceful, non-racist, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. He also attended Matthew’s classes in the theory of national democratic struggle.

He opened his house, with the approval of his wife Nomonde, to meetings of struggle activists from Lingelihle and Michausdal. Whilst he was committed to Peoples Education he saw the liberation of the oppressed people long overdue. Fort assisted Matthew in fighting against rent increases in Cradock through CRADORA. No wonder when the organisation was formed in October 1983 he became its treasurer.

 

PRESIDENT OF CRADOYA

On the other hand, he was the first president/chairman of CRADOYA (Cradock Youth Association). He saw to it that the youth participated in the struggle in a disciplined fashion though he promoted principled radicalism and militancy. The youth enjoyed his revolutionary leadership and as a result CRADOYA produced high quality leaders for the struggle.

In November 1983 he was part of the Release Mandela Campaign with his wife Nomonde Calata who lost her job when she was found wearing a Release Mandela Campaign T-shirt. Her case was discussed on 11 April 1984, and the high court charged her with three months imprisonment or a fine of R800. The following day she was dismissed with immediate effect by the authorities of the Cradock Provincial Hospital where she worked.

 

FORT OUT OF TEACHING

In January 1984 students commenced a school boycott after learning of the expulsion of Matthew by the the Department of Education and Training. Students demanded that Matthew be reinstated. The close cooperation between Fort and Matthew brought them to the attention of security police. On 19 March 1984, security police had a meeting discussing the proposed ‘permanent removal from society’ of Matthew Goniwe and Fort Calata as they were deemed to be instigators of the school boycott. The Lingelihle school boycott of 1984 led to Fort being detained on the 31st March 1984. He was detained in Diepkloof Prison with three other comrades, Matthew Goniwe, Matthew’s cousin Mbulelo Goniwe and head prefect Fezile Donald Madoda Jacobs. This was the prison which used to be called Fort Prison where his grandfather, Canon James Arthur Calata, was detained in 1956. In June, they were informed they had been ‘listed’ which meant they could not be quoted. Whilst in detention, Fort was informed on 21 August that he had been dismissed from his teaching post on account of misconduct under the Education Act of 1979.

His wife Nomonde in the meantime, was subjected to harassment by security police, and threatened with eviction if she did not pay her rent. When she had started a little shop to support her family, security police vandalised it. In August 1984 the community launched a week long boycott of white owned shops in protest against the detention of community leaders. As a result to this boycott, the government buckled under pressure and released Fort and others on 10 October 1984. Whilst in detention Fort did not receive a salary.

On his release, Fort became more involved in mass actions against apartheid education, Black Local Authorities, Coloured Management Councils, Tricameral Parliament, Influx control laws and bills which were oppressive and all other apartheid laws. He saw to it that the youth participated in strengthening people’s organisations.

On the 25th May 1985, during the siege of Lingelihle, he was in Johannesburg on visit. Security police searched for him in his house. When they could not find him they threatened his wife; that should they meet him, they would harm him.

 

CELEBRATING THE FREEDOM CHARTER AND THE AFTERMATH

The defiant revolutionary, Fort, on the 26 June 1985, addressed a full capacity Lingelihle Community Hall during a Freedom Charter celebration. He encouraged the audience to continue fighting for the New South Africa which was certain to come with a democratic education that would open its doors to all.

On 27 June 1985 he drove to Port Elizabeth to attend a UDF meeting, together with his comrades Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, and Sicelo Mhlawuli. They did not return home to Cradock, and their burnt and mutilated bodies were found a week after their disappearance. The police could not not explain their disappearance, or why they had been found so far apart from one another and from the burnt car.

Fort, the youngest of the four, died at the age of 28 from stab wounds to his chest. Security police had assassinated him on 27 June 1985, together with his comrades near Bluewater bay, Port Elizabeth. He left behind his wife Nomonde and three siblings, namely Dorothy, Lukhanyo, (aged 10 and 3 respectively at the time of their fathers death), and Tumani, with whom Nomonde was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death.

“MY PRAYER HAS ALWAYS BEEN TO MEET THEM (THE PERPETRATORS) SO THEY COULD EXPLAIN WHAT THEY DID
AND WHY. I PRAYED DAILY. SOMETIMES I GOT VERY ANGRY. I FEEL THEY SHOULD TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY
CHILDREN. I LOST MY JOB. I LOST MY HUSBAND, MY FRIEND, MY CHILDREN’S FATHER. I LOVED HIM. HE LOVED
HIS CHILDREN. I WAS ABOUT TO HAVE A BABY WHEN HE DIED. HE WANTED A GIRL. I WANTED A BOY. THE DAY
HE LEFT I WAS SUPPOSED TO GO TO THE DOCTOR. THE LAST THING HE SAID WAS ‘I WANT A GIRL.'”
– Nomonde Calata

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