Renowned poet Don Mattera has passed away

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The family of renowned poet Don Mattera has confirmed the legend has passed on. The 87-year-old was a prolific poet, author and anti-apartheid activist.

His autobiography “memory is a weapon” celebrates life in Sophiatown in the 1950s. He was a vocal opponent of apartheid and was placed under house arrest for eight years.

He established several literary organisations including the Congress of South African Writers.

Mattera, who is Muslim, will be buried according to Islamic rites on Monday at the Lenesia Cemetery.

His death coincides with the birthday of another legend, Nelson Mandela.


Don Mattera was born in 1935 in Westbury and was adopted by his grandfather as his son. His mother was a Tswana domestic worker, but his father was classified as Italian.

He had a really multicultural childhood as a result of his grandfather’s frequent stories about his Italian ancestry.
In his poetry, he spoke affectionately of the Sophiatown where he had grown up and the way the 1962 deportation had torn apart his sense of self.

He was educated at St Theresa’s Catholic Convent School in Durban because his grandmother wasn’t happy with the schools in their area.

On his return to Johannesburg, he became involved in Westbury’s gang culture, as a leader of the Vultures, but with some influence from Father Trevor Huddlestone, he shifted his focus to politics, and the fight against the destruction of Sophiatown.


As his political thinking developed, he joined the ANC Youth League. He was banned in 1973 and spent over 8 years under house arrest.

His poetry and other writing became more prolific, his work emphasized the political importance of memory, and this was one of the ideas that shaped the philosophical position of the black consciousness movement.

His activism continued and after the banning was lifted, he was involved in establishing several literary and cultural organisations, including the African Writers Association, and the Congress of South African Writers.

He worked as a journalist at various publications, including The Star, The Sunday Times, the Weekly Mail and the Sowetan. He continued to be harassed, with random arrests and banning orders.

Don Mattera Inaugural Lecture in March: