(poet, journalist, activist)
Remember to call at my grave
When freedom finally
Walks the land
So that I may rise
To tread familiar paths
To see broken chains
And when my eyes have filled their sight
Do not run away for fright
If I crumble to dust again
It will only be the bliss
Of a long-awaited dream
That bids me rest
When freedom finally walks the land…
—Remember by Don Mattera
Celebrated South African poet, polyglot, journalist and anti-apartheid activist Don Mattera passed away on Monday the 18th of July 2022. He was 86 years old.
Donato Francisco Mattera was born in Western Native Township, (now Westbury), Johannesburg in 1935. The Group Areas Act and subsequent forced-removals of coloured, black and Indians from Sophiatown served as the catalyst for Mattera’s political awakening. His political activism intensified when he joined the African National Congress Youth League.
In the 70s, he became involved in the politics of ‘Black Consciousness’. He helped to form the Union of Black Journalists, and the Congress of South African writers. As a result of his political activities, the South African government banned him from 1973 to 1982.
Bra Zinga, as he was also affectionately known, has authored numerous books including a memoir, poetry collections, short stories and children’s stories. Some of his popular titles include; Memory is the Weapon (1987), Azanian Love Song (1983), Gone with the Twilight (1987), The Five Magic Pebbles (1992), The Moon is Asleep: Poems of Love and Longing (2008), The Storyteller (1989), They Passed This Way and Touched Our Lives (2008), and Faces of Trees: Poems of Struggle, Freedom and Kin (2008).
The Centre For Creative Arts (UKZN) recently honoured Bra Don with the 2022 Artfluence Human Rights Award for his commitment to human rights and community development. Two days before his passing (Saturday the 16th of July), Joburg Theatre honoured the 86-year-old poet, as part of its 60 year anniversary celebrations, by unveiling a star dedicated to him at the entrance.
The Don Mattera Legacy Foundation was launched in Eldorado Park in January 2020. This is to ensure that the legacy of his activism continues in Coloured communities.
Mattera has received numerous humanitarian citations and literary awards. These include:
1983: PEN Award for Azanian Love Song (1983)
1993: Noma Children’s Book Award for The Five Magic Pebbles (1992)
Steve Biko Prize for his autobiography, Memory is the Weapon
Honorary PhD in Literature from the University of Natal, Durban
1997: World Health Organization’s Peace Award from the Centre of Violence and Injury Prevention
1999: University of Natal honorary doctorate.
2006: South African Order of the Baobab in Gold for “Excellent contribution to literature, achievement in the field of journalism and striving for democracy and justice in South Africa.”
2009: University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) honorary doctorate
2011: University of South Africa (UNISA) honorary doctorate
2016: Mazisi Kunene Poetry Award at the Poetry Africa International Festival, Durban
2020: Don Mattera Legacy Foundation was established in his honour
Don Mattera Inaugural Lecture in March
Bra Don will be remembered for his striking poetry and vivid tales of Sophiatown. He will be remembered for his anti-apartheid activism and humanitarian efforts. He will be remembered for the deep love he had for children and the keen interest he displayed in the work and development of young people.
In an interview with the City of Johannesburg, he was asked how he would like to be remembered.
“I would like to be remembered as a man who loved his country and his people.”