FINAL TRIBUTE TO LT GENERAL V. I. RAMLAKAN
KNOWN AS COMRADE VEJAY—-DELIVERED BY DR Z. L. MKHIZE IN DURBAN ON 5TH SEPTEMBER 2020
Program Director, Brigadier General Sibongiseni Dhlomo
Minister of Defense and Military Veterans, Hon Nosiviwe Maphisa-Nqakula
Our Stalwart and veteran of our struggle Comrade Mac Maharaj,
Current and former Members of the National and Provincial Executive Committee and leaders of the African National Congress and Alliance at all levels
The Acting Chief of the SA National Defence Force,
The Acting Surgeon General of the SA Military Health Council,
Generals, Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers and members of the SANDF
Dr Diliza Mji, activists and other leaders of our struggle for freedom
Members of the MK Military Veterans Association, including Former Commanders and Commissars and all fellow ex-combatants of Umkhonto WeSizwe
The Ramlakan Family, his children, his siblings, all relatives, friends and comrades
Members of the media
Fellow South Africans
Today South Africa bids farewell to a brave warrior of our times Lieutenant General Vejaynand Inderjuth Ramlakan. He was popularly known simply as Comrade Vejay for his entire life; as all those who knew him from his young age can only remember him as an activist. He was a father, a husband, an uncle, a friend, a comrade, a leader, a mentor who meant a lot to those that knew him. A remarkable man who left a mark in all our hearts.
Before we proceed I also wish to pay tribute to you Comrade Sandy for your contribution as an operative in your own right and the sacrifices you went through We pay tribute to you and your family bringing up the children and all the sufferingthough went through. May you find peace and healing. You are our heroes.
For me and many other colleagues, this marks the end of a journey we have traversed, spanning over fourty years as youth activists, student leaders, military combatants, policy makers in transformation and political leaders in a democratic South Africa.
He was a patriot who loved his country and vowed never to rest until his people are freed from apartheid slavery.
When called upon to serve his people, he stepped to the fore. When volunteers and activists were required for grass roots mobilization, he was amongst the first to be counted. For him, no task was a burden and no sacrifice was too high: for he loved his people even as he understood that his call to duty carried a risk to his own life. He had chosen a lonely life in which he would never rest.
This was the life many of the youth of his time chose. This was not their design, but it was the only option. Who would stand and countenance the oppression and brutal suppression of our human rights of a people dispossessed of their land, subjugated by force and treated as serfs, as hewers of wood and drawers of water; their children denied equal and quality education and destined to die of diseases, of hunger and underdevelopment?
Comrade Vejay joined the many youth who, in 1976, took to the streets to protest against inferior education, shouting “Down with Inferior education!”
When the Black students in the White University of Natal protested against the closure of the only medical school available to train Black doctors and resisted the creation of an inferior university for homeland doctors, Comrade Vejay was amongst those students who faced the batons, dodged bullets and outran the snarling Alsatian dogs of the apartheid police force on the streets of Durban.
The University of Natal Black section, (UNB), as it was called, had been transformed into a cradle for student activism and nest for incubating freedom fighters. Student activism gave the apartheid government no joy.
The banning of the Black Consciousness movement, the assassination of Steve Biko, forced many youth into an open rebellion against the apartheid regime, using all structures such as Medical Students Representative Council and resources in the university to mobilize communities, particularly the youth in townships, under the guise of running community clinics or mathematics and science literacy campaigns.
Here as President of the MSRC, comrade Vejay displayed highly sophisticated leadership, galvanizing students in demanding equal education, an end of harassment of students, promoting political engagements and forcing the university to protect students who were victimized by police. He was a fierce critic of the Tricameral Parliament, turning the medical school into a base for non-collaboration where pamphlets were produced and students turned into an army mobilizing for boycott of the polls.
The medical students had a culture of solidarity and participating in workers and community struggles such as Durban Housing Action Committee, commemorating special days in the political calendar, such as workers’ and women’s days, leading boycotts of products in support of workers such as Wilson Rowntrees, Sunday Times etc. These activities and students boycotts and protests earned the students the unwelcome attention of the notorious Special Branch police, leading to Comrade Vejay and others getting detained.
Many students were recruited into the underground activities of the African NationalCongress— Comrade Vejay was one of them.
It was a default position to assume any of the medical students were not only politically conscious but were also supporters or sympathizers of the African National Congress.
Political education amongst medical students brought into a sharp contrast the insanity of racially segregated health services and the requirement of getting permission from the apartheid government to study in a white area, which is where the medical school for black students was, and also requiring permission to be in the same class as white students.
This political understanding inculcated the importance of focusing on community health, turning doctors to be champions human and patients rights. The fact that the socio-economic conditions determine the well being of individuals and communities, made it clear that apartheid determined what disease black communities would suffer from and from which they would prematurely die.
It was clear to us as medical students that the first step in improving the quality of life of our people is to rebel against the national oppression and racial discrimination , overthrow the apartheid regime and ensure all our people have a right to vote for the government of their choice. This is where the seeds of the National Health Insurance were sown. Access to affordable quality health care for all, irrespective of the individuals ability to pay or membership of medical aid, remains the ideal that bound us together as activists, medical students and freedom fighters.
Comrade Vejay believed that Universal Health Coverage will be achieved in our lifetime. We owe it to his memory to ensure that those of us who survive should never rest until implementation of the National Health Insurance is achieved; otherwise our struggle for freedom would have been in vain.
Comrade Vejay qualified as a doctor who went out to practice medicine and, true to the Hippocrates oath he had taken, he dedicated himself to serving our people: the sick, the poor, the downtrodden and underprivileged. He remained fully cognizant of the fact that South Africa and her people were the main patient in need of caring.
It soon became clear in the late seventies and early eighties that the struggle was moving into a higher gear and the suppression by apartheid security had become even more severe; with the assassination of leaders such as Griffith’s and Victoria Mxenge; the execution of MK combatants despite huge campaigns calling for a stay of execution. People had no voice and repression was extreme.
Youth, like Vejay, joined the struggle in droves; motivated by the speech President Nelson Mandela delivered on the dock in 1964 whilst facing a possible death sentence with his fellow Rivonia trialists, where he said:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Having been recruited into the underground and received basic political and military training, he answered the call by President O R Tambo for the freedom fighters of the ANC to be rooted inside the country. This would ensure that guerrilla operations would be conducted by fighters trained inside the country, making them less detectable and thus accelerate the struggle for freedom as they organize and mobilize communities to resist apartheid and undermine its governance.
Guided by Natal Indian Congress stalwarts such as Mewa Ramgobin, George Sewpersadh, Paul Davids, MD Naidoo and Release Mandela Committee led by Archie Gumede, SAAWU and FOSATU unions, a broad base for the formation of the UDF was created guided by the Congress traditions.
There was a call for apartheid to be rendered ungovernable; and all progressive forces were rapidly organized under the United Democratic Front; under the slogan “UDF UNITES- APARTHEID DIVIDES”
Comrade Vejay answered to that call too, leading the medical fraternity in that effort.
Several waves of MK units had been operating and, to replace those arrested, more would be dispatched into the country to continue the fight. The ANC’s political and military operations had been integrated. In 1985 a new Command was installed under Comrade Sihle Mbongwa and Kevin Qobosheane to be in charge of various units amongst whom comrades Sibongiseni Dlomo and Lulamile Xate were commanding. These operations were also commanded from Swaziland under Raymond Lalla, Terence Tryon, led by Natal Commander Jabu Ngwenya (alias Thami Zulu) who had taken over after the assassination of comrade Mdu Guma and Zweli Nyanda. The top Commander was the leader of the Politico-military Committee overseeing Natal- Comrade Ebrahim Ebrahim.
This was the BUTTERFLY OPERATION that became an extensive operation spanning the entire province of KwaZulu-Natal: in Durban surburbs, townships and rural areas, Pietermaritzburg, Port Shepstone and Newcastle. Another soldier, Comrade Sbu Mazibuko, who survived a bomb blast that tragically killed Comrade Zinto Cele in Bluff, described how Vejay tended his wounds and protected him together with his family while helicopters were hovering overhead and messages went out in search for the surviving guerrilla.
Many military activities were conducted but eventually some units were uncovered and arrests followed in which Vejay, Dudu Buthelezi, a then recently qualified Doctor Sibongiseni Dlomo and several combatants were charged with treason. The trial demonstrated that there was enemy infiltration at higher echelons when reports deposited in Mozambique suddenly surfaced in the trial in court. Comrade Mac Maharaj eloquently paid tribute to some of the bravest soldiers that we lost—Comrade Portia Phila Ndwandwe, Phumezo Nxiweni, Stanley Bila, all of whom lost their lives in the hands of the ruthless apartheid forces. Comrade Andrew Zondo faced the gallows gallantly and saved all his comrades and fellow combatants form certain execution. How can we ever repay the debt of gratitude and appreciation we owe them.
Thereafter, Vejay and the fellow trialists started the long journey in Robben Island. Many of the activists were forced into exile but the operations were reactivated inside the country under a different guise—and the struggle continued. The reactivated units cracked the mystery of infiltration and the betrayal of the Commanders of Operation Butterfly—but that’s a tale for another day.
Even in Robben island, Vejay’s passion as a doctor was never missed. He was overawed as he served with leaders of our movement that he had been singing about and knew as part of his slogans but now was in their midst. This touched him greatly and deepened his belief in the values of our movement.
He was inspired by the sincerity of our struggle icons such as Madiba, Oliver Tambo, Ahmed Kathrada and many others whose sincerity created the deep respect that our movement enjoyed for decades.
On his return from prison, he took responsibility to face the Truth and Reconciliation Commission outlining the difficult choices he had had to make and having no regrets for his contribution to this noble cause.
As he rose in the ranks of the South African Military Health Services, he continued to embrace the ethos of service with honor and dignity. He had passion for recording the history of the non-statutory contribution in the military health integrating it in the book ‘THE FOURTH DIMENSION: The history of military health in South African. The book seeks to create a historical record that unites all our efforts. The reality is that while many white doctors were conscripted into the army and served in army uniform, there were many of us who were serving as doctors but were members of an underground guerrilla army of Umkhonto weSizwe at the same time.
Nothing gave him as much joy and sense of humility as the Surgeon General than to be the physician in charge to look after our icon, the father of our nation President Nelson Mandela. He frequently updated me as he and the team of 22 carefully selected doctors served our Father till the end.
Nothing gave him so much pain as the misunderstanding that arose with the book he published. How I also wish the matter could be settled amicably.
He was in the struggle for the long haul but it was in service to the people. He was not driven by greed or self interest and he never got consumed by factional tendencies that have riddled our movement to be barely recognizable. Leaders need to be all reminded that the ANC is not merely a passport to high positions or self enrichment, but was created as a movement for all our people as an instrument for liberation from oppression.
Comrade Vejay leaves us at a time when our country is facing several crises that require honest and principled leadership- leadership that will confront challenges with courage without seeking popularity. Our ideal for freedom remains a dream until we have eradicated poverty, inequality, unemployment and uprooted corruption. We have a challenge to eliminate crime and free our women from gender based violence and femicide, in which many women lose their lives in the hands of men they once trusted deeply. We need to all stand together and say ‘not in our name’ should women face another dehumanizing day in a free country such as ours.
We bid him farewell under circumstances constrained by the restrictions imposed to contain the COVID 19 pandemic. While we embrace the optimism of a receding surge, we must remain vigilant as the risk of resurgence is not completely ruled out. We mourn the lives of those we lost to an invisible enemy. We salute all those dedicated health workers who have remained committed to the service of our nation during a time when we needed a combination of skills of health workers as soldiers in the forefront. As Minister and a part of government, we undertake to do everything in our power to protect our health workers.
On his passing, let us remind all those in positions of power that the struggle cannot be over until we entrench good governance, eliminate corruption, achieve true non-racialism, non-sexism, equality and justice prevails.
That is what Lt Gen Ramlakan dedicated his life to. If we achieve those dreams his struggles will not have been in vain.
Comrade Vejay was produced as a well rounded cadre of our movement. He was a doctor who respected the ordinary people in our community.
He was a revolutionary intellectual who used his knowledge to empower others and provide leadership under the most trying circumstances. He was a deep thinker and a strategist who would always give guidance and provided a solution out of a crisis situation.
He was articulate and always managed to simplify difficult concepts and to win the confidence of those around him.
In his entire life Comrade Vejay believed in Non-racialism and was himself completely unconscious of racial identity. He was a true African who believed in freedom, equality, unity and democracy for all.
He was a disciplined soldier and a man of principle who respected all those who led him and those whom he led with equal measure.
He worked hard and never referred to his illustrious history or struggle credentials.
We have lost a humble servant of our people, a courageous soldier who fought gallantly and never betrayed our cause but remained steadfast and loyal until his last breath
As a friend, medical colleague, comrade and fellow ex-combatant, I stand here like many comrades to bid Farewell to a hero of our struggle.
We salute you Commander!
You fought a good fight!
Your mission is accomplished!
We dip our revolutionary banner to honor you for your bravery and thank you for your service and leadership!
Soldiers never grieve and never mourn; for death is a fulfillment of a lifelong vow whose encounter is always expected. Let us pick up the spear and surge forward into battle.
In remembrance of my comrade and friend I wish to close with these words by Walterrean Salley:
A Fallen Soldiers Sonnet
Fallen warriors, gone too soon
The best, the brave- bold and bright
Like a comet thrust from the skies
On a late summertime night
Men who’s taken up the cause
Giving no less than their all
Thirty-one brilliant eager minds
For whom we silently pause
On behalf of the motherland,
They’ve paid the ultimate price.
We acknowledge now their families
In memories of their sacrifice
And of their story, time will tell
For they shall be remembered well.
In the language of our ancestral warriors:
UYADELA WENA OSULAPHO!
The struggle continues!
On behalf of the African National Congress, the comrades and fellow ex-combatants we wish to convey our deepest condolences to his family,Rosario, Anisha, Kieran and Masana, Anand and other siblings, Comrades Sandy, comrade Charlotte, the community and colleagues. We thank you for giving him to serve our nation.
May his soul Rest In Peace.
Hamba Kahle, Mkhonto!