Lt-Gen Vejaynand Ramlakan

Lt-Gen Vejaynand Ramlakan, popularly known as ‘Vejay’, he was born in Durban in 1957. He started schooling in Durban and matriculated at Naidoo Memorial High in Umkomaas in 1974. He obtained his basic medical degrees from the University of Natal in 1980. has contributed to many levels of society throughout his life, from a trade unionist, medical doctor, underground ANC cadre, uMkhonto weSizwe combatant to career soldier in the army.

Having grown up in the apartheid system he began student life with a sheltered outlook, but while attending the medical school, his mind was freed from his previously blinkered social views, and where he was involved in many student organizations. This involvement with student politics led him to join the ANC underground movement, as a student activist as well as other programmes engaged in sabotage against the apartheid regime.

Vejaynand Ramlakan and South African Acting President, Kgalema Motlanthe, January 2011
Vejaynand Ramlakan and Kgalema Motlanthe, January 2011

After graduating as a medical doctor in 1980, he worked by day as a medical doctor and by night as an uMkhonto weSizwe soldier, a contradiction he happily lived by as he appreciated its significance. He was later arrested after 5 years, and was sentenced to prison on Robben Island in 1987. Here, he became a member of the Central Political Education Committee, and with the unbanning of the ANC, spent a year and a half preparing fellow political prisoners to become leaders, before they were released. Together with a group of ex-political prisoners he is currently involved in launching the Robben Island Leadership Institute, where lessons they learnt during their time in struggle are shared with current and new leadership in an effort to continue in the path set by their forefathers.

In 1993, after his release, Vejay was called upon by the late Minister of Defence, Joe Modise, to assist in the creation of a new National Defence Force. As a member of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Ramlakan transferred across to the South African National Defence Force when MK was incorporated into it in 1994. Having systematically worked his way up the ranks, Ramlakan was finally appointed to the top position of the South African Military Health Service in 2005, acting as the country’s Surgeon General until 2013, after which time he was employed as the Chief of Corporate Staff Services for the Department of Defence. He acted as the military physician to Former President Nelson Mandela, and the Principal Medical Advisor to Madiba on behalf of the State. In this capacity he was heavily involved in Mandela’s care during his last few years.

Lt-Gen Ramlakan has received many awards for military service, was knighted as the Order of Saint John by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, for his contribution to military health; and was presented the UKZN Edgar Brookes Award, for outstanding contribution to human endeavor and freedom.

There are few people have given so much of their lives to public service. From representing the rights of students at the University of Natal, to undergoing underground military training in Swaziland, to ensuring the best medical care for one of the most significant leaders of the 20th century, Lieutenant General Vejaynand Ramlakan is a man who should have no regrets for a life lived fully.

He died from a suspected heart attack on 27 August 2020 in a Johannesburg hospital.