Sicelo Mhlauli was born on 25 May 1949 in Cradock. After completing high school, he trained as a teacher at Lovedale College and upon completion taught at Tembalabantu High School in Zwelitsha Township in the mid-70s. Mhlauli became friends with Matthew Goniwe with whom he grew up in Cradock. While he was teaching at Tembalabantu, Charles Sebe, the head of the Ciskei intelligence services informed Mhlauli that he was going to be watched. Subsequently, the Ciskei authorities arrested and detained him in Zwelitsha during the student strikes. The constant harassment by the Ciskei security establishment compelled Mhlauli to leave Tambalabantu and find work elsewhere. Mhlauli found work at Atchivelile school.
When student riots and unrest broke out in Atchivelile, the Ciskeian police assaulted the children and in attempt to suppress the riot. Mhlauli took the wounded children to the Dimbaza clinic for treatment. His actions angered the police who arrested and detained him. He was released but from then on the Ciskei police periodically arrested, detained and interrogated him.
Mhlauli relocated to Oudtshoorn, where he began teaching in 1982 until he became the principal. He continued with his political involvement despite attempts by the police to stop him. For instance, he was active in the Oudtshoorn Youth Organisation and a community newspaper- Saamstaan. Mhlauli also became an active member of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and attended its launch in 1983. That same year he survived an arson attack in which his office and personal belongings were destroyed.
In 1985 Mhlauli arrived back in Cradock for the school holidays while his wife, Nombuyiselo, was on a course in Port Elizabeth. After meeting with Goniwe who suggested they travel together with Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto to Port Elizabeth, he agreed. On 27 June 1985, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli (known as the Cradock Four) drove to Port Elizabeth to attend a UDF meeting. The meeting continued until the hours of the evening. After that the four men left Port Elizabeth at around 21h10 and drove back towards Cradock but on their way, they came to a roadblock at Olifantskop Pass. The security police who had been monitoring their movements set up a road block specifically to catch the four men. Upon identifying their cars, they were immediately arrested and separated. Mhlauli and Mkhonto were transported in one car, Goniwe and Calata in another. Both cars were driven by security policemen.
On 27 June 1985 the Cradock four were executed by the security police and their bodies burnt. Mhlauli was beaten until he was unconscious by security policemen Van Zyl Taylor, Glen Mgoduka, Lotz and Faku before being stabbed to death. Mhlauli and Mkhonto’s bodies were found in Bluewater Bay area but far apart from each other. Mhlauli had 25 stab wounds in the chest, seven in the back, and another four in his arms. His throat had been cut. His right hand was missing. He had died from blood loss, predominantly from severed jugular veins. His body had extensive burns. The families went down to the Government mortuary in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth on 29 June 1985 to identify the bodies of Mkhonto and Mhlauli. The families were only allowed to see the bodies from a distance, and from behind a glass panel. Both Mhlauli and Mkonto’s bodies were handcuffed and tied with rope.
Mhlauli together with his comrades were buried in Cradock on 20 July 1985. Mourners were addressed by Allan Boesak, Beyers Naude, Victoria Mxenge and Steve Tshwete. A message from ANC leader-in-exile Oliver Tambo was read to the tens of thousands of people who had gathered. On 26 July 1985, President PW Botha responded by declaring a State of Emergency in the Eastern Cape. At the time of his death Mahluli was a Headmaster in Oudtshoorn. He was married to Nombuyiselo Mhlauli (née Zonke), a lecturer at the Bellville Training College in Cape Town. They married in 1980 and had three children, Bawuli who was born in 1976, Nsika born in 1981 and Bantu was born in 1985.
A two-year inquest into the death of the Cradock four began in 1987 (Inquest No. 626/87) under the Inquests Act No. 58 of 1959, headed by Magistrate E de Beer. At the end of the inquest on 22 February 1989, the Magistrate found that the four had been killed by “unknown persons” and that “no-one was to blame”. In 1992 President FW de Klerk called for a second inquest after the disclosure on 22 May 1992 by the New Nation newspaper of a Top Secret military signal calling for the "permanent removal from society" of Goniwe, Calata and Goniwe’s cousin, Mbulelo. The second inquest began on 29 March 1993 and ran for 18 months in terms of the Inquests Amendment. Judge Neville Zietsman, in delivering his verdict, found that the security forces were responsible for their deaths, although no individual was named as responsible.
When the Truth and Reconciliation process was instituted, seven policemen applied for amnesty in connection with the death of the Cradock Four. The Port Elizabeth policemen were Security Police chief Colonel Harold Snyman, his deputy, Major-General Nicholas Janse van Rensburg, Captain Johan Martin "Sakkie" van Zyl, the man who allegedly led the hit squad, Lt Eric Alexander Taylor, Sgt Gerhardus Johannes Lotz, and SADF colonel Hermanus Barend du Plessis. The four black security policemen involved in their murders were killed by their own colleagues in December 1989 after they threatened to expose the details of the operation in which the Cradock Four were killed.
A monument commemorating the lives of three generations of Cradock activists, who died during the struggle, including the Cradock Four, was unveiled by then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma and Eastern Cape Premier Makhenkesi Stofile. On April 2006, the South African Government honoured Calata by conferring him with the Order of Luthuli in Bronze.
A monument commemorating the lives of three generations of Cradock activists, who died during the struggle, including the Cradock Four, was unveiled by then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma and Eastern Cape Premier Makhenkesi Stofile. On the 10th anniversary of the deaths of the Cradock Four, former President Nelson Mandela and Raymond Mhlaba (former Robben Island prisoner) visited the graves to lay wreaths. On 20 April 2006, the South African Government conferred the Luthuli Medal in Bronze on Mhlauli for his outstanding contribution and dedicating his life to a free, just and democratic South Africa.