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Sparrow Mkhonto (1951 - 1985)

The Order of Luthuli in

Sparrow Mkhonto (1951 - 1985) Awarded for:
Outstanding contribution and dedicating his life to a free, just and democratic South Africa.

Profile of Sparrow Mkhonto

Sparrow Mkhonto was born in Cradock in the Eastern Cape in 1951. He was married to Sindiswa, and their son, Lonwabo, was born in 1972.

Like many of his fellow political activists and comrades, Sparrow Mkhonto's political consciousness resulted from the oppressive conditions of apartheid. He became involved in the political struggle in 1983 and became the chairperson of the Cradock Residents Association, tasked with negotiating for a reduction in rental fees in that town.

Mkhonto endured a series of assaults and detention without trial by the apartheid police while working at the railways in Cradock. He realised that the oppressive apartheid conditions went hand in hand with the exploitation of workers.

Mkhonto was never satisfied with his job at the railways because of the constant harassment he had to endure from the police, and which was supported by his bosses. At times, he was detained for days while his family knew nothing about his whereabouts. In 1983, he was fired after being labelled a 'communist' by his bosses.

The labelling as a communist had adverse effects on the Mkhonto family as Mrs Mkhonto was also fired from her job at a hair salon for being 'the wife of a communist'. Mkhonto was often arrested for a day or two and was brutally assaulted every time before being released by the police. This was a common violent tactic of the apartheid security police used to instil fear into activists and to persuade them to renounce the struggle for liberation. But this was not enough to deter Mkhonto from his active participation in the struggle for basic human rights for the oppressed.

On 27 June 1985, Mkhonto and his comrades Fort Calata, Matthew Goniwe and Sicelo Mhlawuli left their homes to attend a meeting in Port Elizabeth. They were abducted, assaulted and brutally killed by the apartheid police in what became known as the killing of the Cradock Four.

These murders shocked the world. About 40 000 mourners converged at the Lingelihle Stadium to pay their last respects to the young comrades who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of this country.

The spirits of the mourners were lifted when a massive South African Communist Party flag was unfolded and 'flown defiantly' at the funeral. The young lions were roaring from the grave. Their murders came shortly after the murders of Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO) members Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela and Qaqawuli Godolozi (known as the PEBCO Three).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings confirmed that the security police were indeed responsible for the murders of the PEBCO Three and the Cradock Four.

The TRC heard evidence that Mkhonto was shot twice in the head, was stabbed several times and that his body was burnt.

Sparrow Mkhonto fought heroically against oppression. He had the courage to leave the comforts of a professional life to wage a sacrificial war for the realisation of the rights of the oppressed.

He never doubted that freedom could only come through the efforts of those who yearned for it.

The apartheid killers may have succeeded in removing him physically and permanently from society but his spirit continues to enrich the fabric of a democratic South Africa.