Comrade Dick – A rock that stood the test of time

MATHATHA TSEDU 

The day after Cyril Ramaphosa was inaugurated as President of the country in June 2019, SABC journalist, Desiree Chauke, interviewed Azwifarwi Dick Ralushayi about how he knew the new President. For journalists, it was a time to find the little unknown gems that would give viewers/readers/listeners a glimpse into the life of the President away from the public persona.

Ralushayi attended high school with Ramaphosa and there was even a picture of the two of them as natty dressers standing outside one of the dormitories they had shared at Mphaphuli High in Sibasa, Limpopo. Ralushayi was introduced by Desiree as a special friend of Ramaphosa who had been specifically invited to the inauguration at Loftus Versfeld.

Desiree was so sure she had found her special gem and referred to him as even part of the inner circle of The Man and pushed this line hard. At both points, Ralushayi demurred. “No, I was not the only friend invited, there were several others also invited”

Desiree was not giving up, so she pressed: “As part of the inner circle…” “I wouldn’t call it an inner circle”, Ralushayi interjected. This could have been the moment for Ralushayi to claim proximity and a special relationship to the number one man in the country, but he didn’t.

He instead kept it real.  “We know each other, we were at school together, and yes we are friends but not special friends nor part of some inner circle”. 

In these times of unbridled greed and claims of influence peddling, when many with less access than he has would have claimed more and used that to monetise the claim, Ralushayi instead stuck to what he knew he could say and still walk with his head high and not be accused of claiming what he wasn’t.

That was the mark of the man that Ralushayi was throughout his life. A humble soft spoken true patriot who committed his life to freedom and suffered immensely for his involvement in the struggle to attain that freedom, he was never one to wear his “struggle credentials” on his sleeve like the Christian Dior labels that many suit wearers do not remove on the jacket sleeves.

Ever modest but unshakable in his beliefs, he was the rock that stood the test of time whilst many, especially the latter-day revolutionaries who swelled the ranks of the ANC post 1990, pushed and shoved to get to the front of the feeding troughs. In one of the last conversations we had about a week ago, he spoke of people trying to use him to get close to Ramaphosa.

“There was this young guy who phoned and said he and other so-called Venda people want to create an advisory committee to help Cyril and that I should be part of it. I told him Cyril was a President of the whole country and not of Vhavenda, but this boy was insistent that Vhavenda were being overlooked and so on. I told him he should stop insulting me by talking to me in those terms and that he must never ever call me again. I was so angry, you know.”

It was the mark of the character of the man who died on Friday at a Polokwane hospital and who, as long as I can remember, has always been on the side of justice and strongly anti-tribal. From way back in the 70’s, yes when he shared the dorm with Ramaphosa, Ralushayi was a beacon of commitment.

That steadfast commitment came at a huge risk of arrest, detentions, torture and even death. Indeed some of his comrades carry scars, whilst others, like their common friend with Ramaphosa, Tshifhiwa Muofhe, was tortured to death by the Venda Security Police in the early 80’s. Ralushayi had been detained at the same time as Muofhe and tortured by the same brutes, after the bombing of the Sibasa police station where a number of policemen were killed.

He understood, too, the power of communication and was made publicity secretary when the local chapter of the Black People’s Convention was formed around Sibasa.  He used his position and contacts with Johannesburg based journalists such as Thami Mazwai, Zwelakhe Sisulu and Phil Mtimkhulu to learn the basics of journalism and would file political stories from the region for the Rand Daily Mail and other publications.

I remember reading his short pieces back then which were important as markers of history around the activism that was happening in that rural town and surrounding areas of Venda. The fact that someone so near to where I lived was writing for the Daily Mail was one of the factors that spurred me to become a journalist. Ralushayi was also instrumental in the production of a local publication, Flashlight, which was banned by the Venda government.

Several stints of detentions followed, by either the Venda security police or their handlers, the SAP Security Branch, which saw him in one instance languishing in detention at Modderbee following the 1977 swoop on activists after the October 19 bannings of organisations and newspapers.

Like many activists of that time, he was a staunch Black Consciousness proponent, having cut his teeth in student politics as a member of the SA Students Organisation (SASO), but in reality Ralushayi  was an underground operative of the African National Congress and its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was actually a senior internal commander of the far north region of MK, responsible for both logistics and storage of equipment for the guerillas.

In the current divisions that now characterise the ANC, Ralushayi was part of the Veterans League that has been vocal against corruption and the drift away from the core values of what the ANC used to stand for. Equally, he was part of the MK Council, which stands in opposition to the MKVA of Kebby Maphatsoe and Carl Niehaus, which have come to be seen as unquestioning supporters and storm troopers of Jacob Zuma and those around him.

In the SABC interview with Desiree, Ralushayi decried the drift from core values during the Zuma years, saying it was “hell for some of us” to watch the abuse of state resources. He referred to the evidence coming out of the State Capture and the Public Investments Corporation (PIC) Commissions at the time, saying the details were shocking, and expressing the hope that the New Dawn of Ramaphosa then in vogue would herald a sharp turn from corruption.

That remains to be seen. In the meantime, he is gone and with his death another chapter of the old committed stalwarts and soldiers for freedom who fought for no gain but risking life and limb has come to a close.

Ralushayi was born on July 7, 1950, and grew up in Meadowlands, Soweto. He did his Primary schooling at Ha-Dumasi and his high school at Mphaphuli completing his matric in 1970 after which he worked for a year, before going to University of Zululand (now University of KZN) in 1972.

Following the closure of all black campuses in solidarity with the expulsion of Onkgopotse Tiro at Turfloop that year, Ralushayi sought employment back at home and worked at a bank and at an insurance company. It was in this latter role that in 1992 Ralushayi and Gabriel Malaka leaked documents showing a scheme by the then Venda military government to pay out pensions to government employees but with senior officials getting highly inflated payouts. These were changed after the details were published in national media.

Ralushai also worked in the office of the first Premier of the Limpopo province Ngoako Ramathlodi. His last job was as Office Manager of the Office of the Speaker of the Limpopo Legislature from where he retired in 2009.

Ralushayi developed breathing problems on Thursday and died on Friday, leaving his wife Shonisani Ravele-Ralushayi, and four children, Hangwani, Mandela, Albertina and Azwifarwi, as well as seven grandchildren.

 He will be laid to rest on Saturday morning at the Mbaleni cemetery, Thohoyandou. Memorial services are being planned for Thursday and Friday at Polokwane and Thohoyandou respectively.

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