Originally born Donato Francisco in Westbury,1935. Don Materra grew up in Sophiatown in a time that rejoiced vibrant South African culture. He depicted Sophiatown in his biography Memory is the Weapon, written in 1987, for it’s beauty; picturesque and intimate like most ghettoes. . . . Mansions and quaint cottages . . . stood side by side with rusty wood-and-iron shacks, locked in a fraternal embrace of filth and felony. . . . The rich and the poor, the exploiters and the exploited, all knitted together in a colourful fabric that ignored race or class structures.
Don Mattera’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant who married a Xhosa woman from the eastern Cape. They moved to Johannesburg, where Mattera’s father was born. At the time, he was classified as an Italian. Under the apartheid regime, Don was classified as a “colored”. Don’s family was forcibly removed from Sophiatown and relocated to the nearby suburbs of Westbury, Newclare and Bosmont. Don is proud of his heritage and considers himself to be Italian. He categorizes himself as being Catholic choirboy, gangster, political activist, poet, author, journalist and motivational speaker.
Mattera was adopted by his grandparents and at 8 years old was sent off to a Catholic boarding school in Durban. He returned to Johannesburg when he was 14 and continued his education in Pageview, another suburb which suffered under apartheid when the residents were again forcibly removed during the 1960’s. He led the Vultures, a criminal gang. During gang conflicts, he was shot at and stabbed with 9 nasty scars to prove it. He then chose to become politically active. As a result of these activities. He was banned from 1973 to 1982 and spent three years under house arrest. During that time his house was raided approximately 600 times and he was detained approximately 200 times.
During this time, he became a founding member of the Black Consciousness Movement and joined the ANC Youth League. He helped form the Union of Black Journalists and the Congress of South African Writers. He also joined the National Forum. He then worked as a journalist on The Sunday Times, The Sowetan, and The Weekly Mail (now known as the Mail and Guardian) and trained over 260 journalists. Don decided to convert to the Muslim faith and is now deeply involved in the Eldorado Park community where he resides. He has a special interest in young people and the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners with a mission statement of removing pain a suffering from people’s lives.
He is involved in 143 community organizations and is a patron n 50 trusts but a proud achievement is the establishment of the Harvey Cohen day centre for mentally and physically handicapped children in Eldorado Park, Johannesburg.