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Biography

The Rev. Canon James Arthur Calata was born in 1895 in Nxarhumi village in the Eastern Cape. He trained as a teacher and subsequently taught at St Matthews College, Keiskamma Hoek, in the Eastern Cape. He furthered his studies in theology and joined the ministry. He was then ordained as an Anglican priest at the Cathedral in Grahamstown. Rev Calata worked in various towns in the Eastern Cape and ended up in Cradock. He started the St. James Anglican Church in the old location in Cradock before the removals and initiated the Church of Ascension where he retired.

He was the General Secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which saw him in and out of prison, banned and serving house arrest. Rev Calata was a composer and most of the freedom songs were his compositions, as are some choruses and church hymns from the Anglican Church. All his compositions, hymns, freedom songs and writings were confiscated by the security forces to deflate his determination. He was also one of the 1956 Rivonia trialists.

The choir he founded to sing his songs still exists in Cradock, though some members have passed on. It is still known as the Congress Choir. He also started the Boy Scouts and a rugby team called The Blues.

Rev Calata assisted poor families by helping their children to gain access to proper education. Some of these include the Minister of Safety and Security, Mr Charles Nqakula, the author and poet Prof. Peter Mtuze, and many others who are today’s leaders.

Every Easter and Christmas holidays, there were inter-denominational services in Cradock, which saw the staging of plays he had scripted depicting the birth and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

He started, and was involved in, many community projects. One of these was the establishment of farm schools in Cradock. Some of these schools still exist today, and have been taken over by the Department of Education.

His contribution to the community has not gone unnoticed. Schools and streets have been named after him because of the role he played in the struggle. St. Timothy Anglican Church is built in James Calata Street in Motherwell, and not far from the Red Location Museum in New Brighton, there is Calata Street. There is also James Arthur Calata High School and Calata location in Lingelihle. A process has been initiated to establish a James Arthur Calata Foundation, which will host an annual lecture.

Rev James Arthur Calata positively affected the lives of others, enabling many to achieve their long-cherished but until then unrealisable dreams. For this, his legacy has spread far and wide in the Eastern Cape where he shared his knowledge with everyone with whom he came into contact.

Rev Calata married Miltha Mary Koboka from Keiskamma Hoek and was blessed with three daughters, 37grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. He passed away in 1983.