Don Mattera

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Don Mattera (1935-2022). South African journalist, poet and author.


Born Donato Francisco Mattera in Western Native Township (now Westbury), Johannesburg, South Africa, Mattera grew up in Sophiatown. He is better known as Don Mattera.

His schooling was received at St Theresa Catholic Covenant School in Durban, and he continued his secondary studies at Pageview in Johannesburg. As a youth he joined and became the leader of the gang called The Vultures and at the age of 20, he was charged with the murder of a rival gang member and spent time in jail as an awaiting trialist before his acquittal.

He passed away on 18 July 2022.

His career

He went on to work as a journalist on The Sunday Times, The Sowetan, and The Weekly Mail (now known as the Mail and Guardian). As a political activist he joined the African National Congress Youth League, and in the early 1970s became involved in the politics of the Black Consciousness Movement. He helped to form the Union of Black Journalists, as well as the Congress of South African Writers. As a result of his political activities, the South African government from 1973 to 1982 banned him. Three of these years were spent under house arrest. Following this period, he resumed his active life. He became a member of the National Forum, which was against what it referred to as “racial exclusivity” of the United Democratic Front.

In later years he worked with street children in the Eldorado community.

His writing

Mattera has written poetry, plays, children stories and an autobiography, called Memory is the Weapon for which he was awarded the Steve Biko Prize.

His work in theatre and performance

He wrote a number of plays, including Streetkids, Apartheid in the Court of History, and One Time Brother, which was banned in 1984. He is credited in the programme of African Footprint for the use of his poetry. He wrote the lyrics for the African Union Launch and for the Concert for Summit on Sustainable Development and composed the poem that launched Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s “Legends of Africa Award”.

A popular motivational speaker, he is often invited to be a Master of Ceremonies in different functions. However, On 31 July 2004, Mattera announced that he was retiring from public performances.


He held an honorary Doctorate (D.Litt) degree in Literature from the University of Natal. He has received fellowships from Sweden and America.


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