Cradock Four memorial neglected, forgotten

2015-04-07 16:48
(Derrick Spies, News24)

(Derrick Spies, News24)

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Cradock - Four concrete pillars, towering up into the sky, capture the imagination of travellers approaching Cradock along the N10 from Bedford. Questions about their purpose spring to mind as they encroach upon the skyline.

This is the first impression of the Cradock Four memorial, erected to honour Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, four anti-apartheid activists assassinated by the South African Secret Police during the height of apartheid in 1985.

Goniwe was a popular teacher in Cradock, as was Calata. The two of them were rumoured to be on a secret police hit list for their active participation in the struggle. Mkonto, a railway union activist, and Mhlauli, a visiting headmaster and childhood friend, were also in the car when it was stopped just outside of Port Elizabeth. They were never seen alive again.

The Cradock Four were labelled “true heroes of the struggle” by none other than former president Nelson Mandela himself, but, as you turn off the freeway and try to find your way to the monument, you can’t help but wonder if these struggle icons would feel honoured.

There is no signage to direct you to the monument at all, and most local residents would not be able to give you directions, were you to ask.

If you do find your way onto the gravel road leading to the memorial, a broken gate greets you upon arrival. Large portions of the palisade boundary fence have been stolen, or have simply collapsed due to neglect.

There is no activity at the memorial at all. A vacant reception area greets you as you climb out your vehicle. It is clear that the memorial is not in use.

Progress beyond the reception area up to the main memorial by vehicle is impossible, with the tarred road almost indistinguishable from the surrounding veld. Weeds and indigenous plants sprout up through giant cracks in the tar.

A closer inspection reveals unfinished buildings with missing doors, smashed windows and missing roofs. Weeds push through the paving and have overgrown the once landscaped gardens.

Inside electrical cables have been ripped from walls and pipes sticking out of the wall are the only indication of where toilets used to be. Light fittings are gone, or, where they could not be removed, they have been smashed beyond repair.

Outside, a beautiful wooden deck has slowly been removed, piece by piece, with half the covered area now laid bare. The only indication that the deck was ever there is a few support beams and fittings rising up out of the concrete slab.

This is the Cradock Four memorial. It is a sad indictment against those responsible for the preservation of our country’s heritage. 

Read more on:    port elizabeth  |  monuments debate  |  apartheid
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