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Veteran Author And Poet, Don Mattera Dies at 87

Mattera will be remembered for his contribution to the fight against apartheid

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Mohammed Yakubu
Mohammed Yakubu
Mohammed Yakubu is an investigative journalist reporting on public health, human rights, climate change, education, gender issues, and much more.

South Africa: As Don Mattera, a South African poet, author, journalist and activist died at 87 on Monday, a contingent of mourners flooded his residence at Ramaite Street in Protea North, Soweto, to bid him farewell.

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Among the mourners include  Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, activists, the Muslim community, friends in the journalism industry and community members.

The mourners in large numbers stood in front of Mattera’s house, waiting for his coffin to be carried out before his burial in Westpark Cemetery. 

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Members of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were spotted chanting walking along the procession: “One Azania, one nation, Africa (Africa, our land).” 

growing up around the veteran poet was magical, said the deceased’s sister simply identified as Genelina.

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Mattera’s sister said it was magical growing up around Mattera.“He is the one who raised me and played a father’s role. He used to spoil us, buying everything and never spanked us,” she said.

“Don uplifted a lot of journalists and made an impact on many people’s lives. And there will never be a leader like him. He is my older brother and played dad. His talent for writing came from my father’s side. Our people are poets in Italy. [He was] a leader and hero and a powerful man,” she added.

One of the deceased’s mentees, Poet Ntsiki Mazwai, said he was sad but had to accept the reality. “I am sad but I have to understand death is part of life,” Mazwai mourned. He has passed the baton to us younger poets. Now I must use my voice of conscience to uplift the youth.

“I got my first public performance performing alongside him… All these years he has taken care of me and mentored me,” he added.

In his condolences excerpts on Monday, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, said: “As a nation, we are saddened by the loss of Don Mattera’s eloquent, rousing and revolutionary voice for justice.”

“May his soul rest in peace as, in his own prose, he sleeps the sleep of freedom,” Ramaphosa prayed. 

His Life

Born in 1935 in Westbury, Johannesburg, the award-winning poet, author, journalist and community activist, Mattera died Monday, at the age of 87.

Confirming his death, Greg Mattera, the deceased’s eldest son, said his father died “peacefully” at home a few weeks after he went for a medical check-up at One Military Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.

Jenny Jeftha, the chair of the Don Mattera Legacy Foundation ,a memorious foundation founded by a group of professionals to preserve Mattera’s literary works for future generations was stunned about Mattera’s death.

“We are still celebrating Mattera’s receipt and the unveiling of the star at the entrance of The Joburg Theatre which celebrated 60 years at the weekend and now he is gone,” said Jeftha.

“Mattera was a renowned award-winning SA poet, community activist, former journalist and musician with an enviable life story,” said Vasco da Gama, the speaker of the City of Johannesburg. “His legacy will live on in the foundation he created for the communities of Westbury, Ennerdale, Bosmont and Eldorado Park,” he added.

Mattera’s footprints In Intellectual Society

The iconic figure worked as a journalist for the Sunday Times, the Sowetan and the Weekly Mail.

Before his death, he was a renowned motivational speaker awarded an honorary doctorate in literature (DLitt) from the University of Natal. Similarly, he had also received fellowships from Sweden and America.

According to NewsTimes, Mattera was instrumental in the formation of the Union of Black Journalists including the Congress of South African Writers, another literary organisation. 

Below are some of the literary works, awards and honours in Mattera’s name. 

Literary works

  • Books Memory Is The Weapon (1987 autobiography)
  • Gone With The Twilight: The Story of Sophiatown
  • Five Magic Pebbles (children’s book)
  • Yolisa’s Map (children’s Book)
  • Plays Streetkids
  • Kagiso Sechaba
  • Apartheid in the Court of History
  • One Time Brother
  • Poetry Azanian Love Songs
  • Four Poems

Awards and recognitions

  • Steve Biko Prize (for Memory is the Weapon)
  • 1983 Tucholsky Award (World PEN Association) for Azanian Love Song
  • 1993 Noma Children’s Book Award for The Five Magic Pebbles
  • 1997 WHO Peace Award (from the Centre of Violence and Injury Prevention)
  • 1999 Honorary Doctor of Literature (Univ of Natal)
  • SA Literary Awards – Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2006 Order of the Boabab
  • 2009 Honorary Doctor of Literature (Wits)
  • 2011 Honorary Doctorate (UNISA)
  • 2016 Mazisi Kunene Poetry Award
  • 2022 Ubuntu Awards: Arts Culture and Diplomacy Veterans Award

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  • Mohammed Yakubu

    Mohammed Yakubu is an investigative journalist reporting on public health, human rights, climate change, education, gender issues, and much more.

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