COSATU General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali’s tribute to Comrade Koena Ramatlou SAMWU General Secretary

Programme Director

Reverend Machaka and the congregation

SAMWU President comrade Mokgotho and leadership collective

Representatives of the SACP led by comrade Buti Manamela

The grieving families of Ramatlou, Marapyane and Mashiane

The Chief mourner Mrs Makgadi Ramatlou and the children, the parents of Cde Koena namely Kgabo and Matome Ramatlou

Leaders of COSATU present or watching through the platforms

Comrades and Friends

On behalf of the COSATU National Office Bearers led by President Zingiswa Losi, members of the Cosatu Central Executive Committee and the entire membership, we relay our heart-felt condolences and solidarity to the family and friends of Cde Koena. 

I am here to confirm that here lies a true working-class soldier, an organiser, educator, a unifier This was an activist of social justice; an anti-corruption cadre, and an ardent anti -tribalist. A great soldier has fallen, and the spear is on the ground. We are here to mourn his untimely passing and bid him farewell. 

As COSATU NOBs, we understand the pain that the Ramatlou family and SAMWU are experiencing during this difficult time because we feel it. Your pain is our pain, and your loss is our loss. 

When I first informed the COSATU leadership that Comrade Koena was no more, I could feel that their world came to a standstill and for a moment their hearts stopped beating. All of us, our world became hollow because there was great hope that he was pulling through.

As COSATU NOB’s, we attended the SAMWU National Congress in early December last year. It was a robust, sometimes heated but overall successful congress. All delegates embraced the conclusions and the outcomes of the congress, including the leadership collective elected.

After the congress Comrade Koena gave me call told me that he was driving to the hospital to see a doctor as he was not feeling well. He sounded exhausted but said it was nothing serious. 

We chatted about what was needed to implement the congress resolutions. We agreed that COSATU would continue to give all the necessary support to SAMWU to help in its rebuilding process. 

We talked about the emotional scars that come with leading an organisation during times of internal division. We found comfort in the quote “Rivers never go reverse. So, we should try to live like rivers. Forget the past and focus on the future. Always be positive”.

Little did I know that I was speaking to him for the last time, had I known I would have spent more time talking with him. The following day when calling him his phone was on a voice mail, only to learn later through Comrade Magagula that he was admitted to the ICU. The SAMWU Deputy GS comrade Dumisani Magagula kept us informed all time. We were hopeful that he will overcome.

Let me share one example of his dedication to the struggle of workers. When the government declared the lockdown under the Disaster Management Act,early last year. COSATU established a structure comprised of General Secretaries of COSATU unions to develop responses and strategies and to engage the Minister of Employment and Labour. We wanted to help workers who were not earning salaries and to ensure they receive income replacement. 

Our engagements were done through a Teleconference facility. From March to November, we were meeting every day for an hour from 09h00am to 10:00am. Comrade Koena never missed a single meeting and when it happened, he would table an apology. This was indeed one example of his commitment.

Comrade Koena had rare skills, he was a great listener. His sharp mind led to him being roped in to serve the international working class.  A true internationalist and a sharp-minded comrade to the end. 

A courageous, principled, and stubborn fighter for the rights of workers. I had an opportunity to attend robust and at times chaotic meetings with him. He never blinked and never wavered. He would always articulate his views without being emotional and personal.

Comrade Koena understood all the tactics of provocation. He grasped and embraced the teachings of Comrade Kgalema Montlanthe who likes to remind us that when a postman encounters barking dogs, while delivering mail, he never puts the mail down and bark back at the dogs. Comrade Koena never lost focus and he always had the bigger picture in mind. 

In celebrating his life, we are reminded that life is not measured by years that one has lived but by the quality of his contribution to improving the rest of humanity. This soldier died with his boots on and we thank the family for allowing him the space to fight for all of us as the working class.

At an appropriate time SAMWU and COSATU should organise a befitting memorial service for comrade Koena Ramatlou so that his book could be read to all. Where we would sing and dance and reflect on the road travelled.

To you comrade Koena, when arriving on the other side, Comrades President Petrus Mashishi, President John Dlamini, comrade Boss Nxu, comrade TT and others, when they ask you about the state of SAMWU. Tell them the truth. Tell them that finally SAMWU held a successful national congress. Tell them that SAMWU is healing and uniting. When comrade Mashishi asks you about the soccer tell him that Moroka Swallows, his team, the Beautiful Birds are back in the PSL and they have not lost a single game since returning to the PSL.

To members and all SAMWU leaders at all levels, the gift you could give to Comrade Koena, a befitting gift, is to pick up the spear, work hard to unite the union and service members without fail.

To the family, we all want you to understand that grief is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith but a price of love. During this dark period, you are likely to feel helpless and hopeless, but this too shall pass, and time will heal you. You will overcome and find reasons to feel cheerful.

Like Maya Angelo said, a great soul like that of comrade Koena never dies, it brings us together again and again.

Cde Koena is travelling his journey after fighting a good fight and completing his race. Let us all release him so that his soul may rest in peace.