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26/04/2018 06:49 SAST | Updated 26/04/2018 10:11 SAST

[EXTRACT] 'My Father Died For This': The Agony Of Fort Calata's Death

"The priest, sensing my mother’s unease, again tried to reassure her: ‘Don’t worry, ma’am, I’m sure they are safe,’ he said."

Tafelberg

My mother remembered that week quite vividly, recalling that on the Wednesday before they left for PE, I was sick with the mumps and that my father had taken me to our family GP, Dr Peter Scholtz. She remembered that we had returned home with a parcel of fish and chips.

'Fort used to like hake,' she said. Later that evening, my mother remembered my father had knelt in front of me while I sat on their bed. 'He was trying to get you to eat something before he left to attend a community meeting.

When he returned home, he reminded me of the Baptist priest [attending a conference in iLingelihle] who would come and stay with us for the duration of the three-day conference.' On the morning of Thursday, 27 June, Swartz telephoned Matthew [Goniwe] to confirm that he would travel. Police officer Fred Koni, whose job it was to monitor Matthew's telephone calls, confirmed that, although 'they spoke in codes, we knew what they meant because we understood these codes and the person who telephoned was a coloured man, Derrick Swartz'.

The priest (whose name my mother has forgotten) arrived just as Matthew pulled up in front of our home. Fort greeted him on his way out to the car. He was wearing his blue Adidas tekkies, blue jeans, a brown T-shirt under his short-sleeved checked shirt, with a brown V-neck pullover. And of course, his sunglasses.

'Fort hardly left the house without putting on his sunglasses,' my mother said with a smile. It was very cold that morning, and just before he got into the car, my father ran back inside the house to fetch a jacket. He chose a tweed-like lumber jacket and went back out. Matthew, Fort, Sparro Mkonto, and a friend of Matthew's, Sicelo Mhlawuli, then left Cradock at about ten o'clock that morning headed for Port Elizabeth some 243 km southwest of Cradock. Sicelo, a teacher and political activist in his own right, was visiting Cradock from Oudtshoorn for the school holidays.

He had asked Matthew for a lift to PE so he could spend the day with his wife, Nombuyiselo, who was back at her parents' home, mourning the death of their newborn baby. My mother, now seven months pregnant, had a doctor's appointment that afternoon. When she returned home, she began to prepare supper.

My mother eventually consoled herself with the thought that maybe my father, Matthew, and Sparro had slept over at Molly Blackburn's house. She returned to her restless sleep.

At around five thirty, Dorothy – as she had done every Thursday – recorded Pop Shop, her and my father's favourite television show. She recalled the episode well, as it debuted the song 'When I need you' by Latin crooner Julio Iglesias. 'I remember watching the video and thinking, Tata is going to like this song,' she said.

Earlier that afternoon, Major Winter, Warrant Officer Hough, and Sergeant Labuschagne signed out a car and left Cradock for PE My mother served supper at around six thirty and set aside a plate of food for my father. She then got Dorothy and me ready for bed. She went to bed around nine or ten pm, but she had trouble falling asleep.

'Fort and Matthew would usually be back around ten o'clock whenever they travelled to PE,' she told me. 'At around midnight, I went to wake the priest. I told him I was worried that Fort wasn't back yet. He answered, "No, ma'am. I'm sure they will be back. Maybe they decided to sleep over in PE." I said, "But Fort would let me know if he was going to sleep over." My parents didn't have a phone in the house, so my father would've called the Methodist Church to ask them to relay the message if he wanted to contact my mother.

The priest, sensing my mother's unease, again tried to reassure her: 'Don't worry, ma'am, I'm sure they are safe,' he said. My mother returned to her bed, where Dorothy and I were fast asleep, still deeply troubled. A few minutes later, she was up again. This time, she went to the front door, unlocked it, and stepped into the cold, dark night.

She looked up and down the street, hoping that at any minute she would see the friendly headlights of Matthew's Honda Ballade coming towards her. 'The street was very quiet as I stood on the stoep. I wondered, why was it so quiet? Normally, the police Casspirs would be driving up and down the street, and the van usually parked opposite the veld was also not there. It was very strange.'

My mother eventually consoled herself with the thought that maybe my father, Matthew, and Sparro had slept over at Molly Blackburn's house. She returned to her restless sleep.

Tafelberg

* This is an extract from "My Father Died for This" by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata. It is published by Tafelberg, an imprint of NB Publishers.