Anti-apartheid activist, journalist and poet Don Mattera was honoured at the Joburg Theatre last Saturday evening 16 July 2022 to roars of applause from theatregoers celebrating his vast achievements and contribution to the arts in South Africa.
At the awards function at Joburg Theatre, the special Star award was accepted on behalf of Don Mattera son, Gregory Mattera.
Two days later, Mattera (86), one of the country’s greatest minds, was no more. Gone. He had been ill for some time. The man behind “Azanian Love Song”, his autobiography “Memory Is The Weapon“ and ”Gone With The Twilight“, was described as a compassionate committed South African who contributed valiantly towards democracy and a better nation for all.
Mattera was a Struggle hero without pretension. He lived and died on Monday 18th July 2022 at his home in Protea Glen in Soweto. According to the South African History Organisation (SAHO), Mattera was born in Westbury in Johannesburg in 1935. His grandfather was an Italian immigrant who married a Khoisan woman from the Cape. His grandfather moved to Johannesburg.
The website says Mattera was raised by his parents in Sophiatown before the family was forcibly shafted as part of the Group Areas Act to Westbury, an area reserved for coloured people under apartheid laws. His was a life of adventure which was to later come out richly in his writing.
A colourful character, Mattera went to boarding school later, and also joined a group of gangsters called the Vultures, with whom he apparently escaped death several times. Around the time of forced removals for black, coloureds and Indians from Sophiatown, Mattera became politically aware. He joined the African National Congress Youth League, later embracing Black Consciousness.
This led him to the formation of the Union of Black Journalists and Congress of South African Writers. House arrest followed and victimisation by the apartheid police. But he stood firm. Mattera worked as a journalist for The Star, The Sunday Times, Weekly Mail (Mail & Guardian) and the Sowetan.
Following his death social media was awash with tributes. Author Ebrahim Harvey wrote: “a giant among us has died”. Writer Kim Heller said, “If words could capture the injustice of South Africa past and present, it is in the poetry of the legendary Don Mattera”.
Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse described Mattera as an extraordinary man who developed his life into public service and helping others. “Mattera contributed immensely to rich literature in South Africa and Africa, he died a few days after receiving a special recognition award during the unveiling of the diamond walk during the 60-year celebration of The Joburg Theatre,” said the Mayor.
On Monday President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his sadness at the passing of author, poet and activist Donato “Don” Francisco Mattera. “As a nation, we are saddened by the loss of Don Mattera’s eloquent, rousing and revolutionary voice for justice. As we observe International Nelson Mandela Day, we remember Bra Don as a patriot, who in the spirit of this commemorative day, did what he could, with what he had, where he was.”
Mattera was described as an Esteemed Member of the Order of the Baobab (in Gold), which he was awarded in 2006 for his “excellent contribution to literature, achievement in the field of journalism and striving for democracy and justice in South Africa”.