Family, friends and colleagues have paid their last respects to the general secretary of municipal workers’ union, Samwu, Koena Ramotlou. He was laid to rest at the Heroes’ Acre on Saturday following a funeral service at the local community hall near his home in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg.

Ramotlou died last Saturday at the age of 41 after being admitted to hospital. He had just returned from the union’s 12th national congress held in Mahikeng in the North West, where he was re-elected to his position.

The cause of death has not been revealed, but the family says it is not COVID-19 related.

Ramotlou’s widow, Mokgadi Ramotlou, says her husband died before she found out what was wrong with him. She told the mourners during the funeral service that she only managed to speak to him once and briefly while he was in hospital as his condition quickly deteriorated.

“I last saw Koena on the 26th (November), before he went to the congress. On his return home on the 4th (December), he dropped his bag and went to hospital. When I got to the hospital on the 4th, they said I won’t be able to see him. I didn’t sleep that night. I went back the following day, they told me he was in ICU. I Asked how come, and begged to see my husband. They said because of COVID-19, I’m not allowed. I asked to see him for only 15 minutes. They agreed, I entered and saw him for 15 minutes. That time was too little, we didn’t discuss much. The following day when I returned, Koena was no longer able to talk. So even today, he died without me knowing what was his problem,” she says.

She says her husband’s death came as a shock. “You left us without a warning, not even a goodbye, and I can’s seem to stop asking the question why? And when you left for heaven, a small part of me died. Your smile could brighten one’s day, no matter what they were going through, and every day for the rest of my life. I’ll be missing you motho waka, you always kept your promises. I’ll always love you motho waka.”

Their two sons, Mphengoa and Mmakiri also paid tribute to their father.

“Papa, those special memories of you dad, will always bring a smile, if only I could have you back, just for a little while, then we could sit and talk again, just like we used to do,” Mphengoa said.

“Wara, I’ll remember all you taught me, there are so many things I wish I had said and done, but sadly I can no longer do. Until the day we shall meet again, I’ll continue to cherish all my memories of you, we love you dad, rest in peace wara,” Mmakiri added.

Members of SAMWU, led by their President Nelson Mokgotho, also promised to carry forward the good work Ramatlou had been doing. Cosatu general secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali, conveyed  his condolences on half of the trade union federation.

“I’m here today to convey our heartfelt condolences. To confirm that here lies a true working class soldier, an organiser, a comrade, a unifier, an activist of social justice. And anti-corruption cadre, he fought  a  good fight, he ran his race, he completed his journey, we must allow and release him, so that his should may rest in peace,” he said.

Ramotlou served in students’ movements in the late 1990s. The former executive committee member of the Young Communist League (YCL) and ANC Youth League (ANCYL) activist, spent his entire life working in the local government sector. He is survived by his wife, their two children, his four siblings and their parents.