The late Dr Hlahla...unsung liberation hero

Mosibudi Mangena pays tribute to the selfless Dr Tshehla Hlahla, a contemporary of Steve Biko who passed away on 20th August

ON 20th August 2017 Dr Tshehla Francis Hlahla left Ga-Hlahla village late in the afternoon to drive to Mahwelereng in Mokopone, where his main surgery was situated. However, a few kilometres into his journey, he was alerted to the fact that a patient had just arrived at Ga-Hlahla village requiring his attention.

Typically Dr Hlahla turned back, attended to the patient and resumed his journey, with the car carrying the patient not too far behind.

Tragically, Dr Hlahla was involved in a head-on collision with a van, in full view of the occupants of the vehicle carrying the patient he had just treated. It was the occupants of this car who alerted Dr Hlahla’s relatives about the horrific accident.

When the relatives arrived at the scene of the accident they found that Dr Hlahla had been fatally injured.

I am relating this incident to illustrate the point that Dr Hlahla was the kind of man who would go out of his way to attend to his patients or to help anyone else for that matter.

That was his way.

As a contemporary of Steve Biko at medical school at the University of Natal, it is perhaps not surprising that Dr Hlahla was also passionate about the philosophy and the values of the Black Consciousness movement championed by Biko.

He deeply loved his people and fully believed in their dignity and inherent humanity of all people. This he displayed not only in his political work, but also in his medical practice and general interactions with ordinary people. It was something to behold watching him join his people in traditional song and dance in his village in Moletji.

Dr Hlahla opened his surgery in Mahwelereng in 1974 and stayed in that community as a family doctor for 43 years. He treated everyone, whether they had money to pay him or not.

In emergencies, villagers could wake him up in the dead of night and he would attend to their needs. He served these two communities with dedication, love and compassion. For these 43 years, he has been oscillating between Mahwelereng and Moletji like a well maintained pendulum. In addition, he dedicated one day a week to work at the local Mokopane public hospital.

No wonder he was known as the people’s doctor.

For his assistance and medical care of the poor and destitute, City Press honoured him in 2002.

Having joined the Black Consciousness Movement through the South African Students’ Organization (SASO), during his student days at the University of Natal, Dr Hlahla never wavered throughout the years in his commitment to the cause.

He was one of the stalwarts who helped with the establishment of AZAPO in Mahwelereng and other parts of Limpopo. Right up to his death, AZAPO meetings in that township were held in his surgery complex.

The highest formal position he ever held in AZAPO was Chairperson of the organization in the then Northern Transvaal. Where he excelled most was in getting things done. In addition to donating a lot of money to the organization, Hlahla had the uncanny gift of getting people to coalesce around him and get work done.

Working closely with people like Joe Matjiu, Tsoaledi Thobejane and Richard Ramodipa, Dr Hlahla was instrumental in setting up the Mokerong Advice Office in 1982 to help ordinary people with oppression related problems.

Dr Hlahla was also involved in the recruitment of cadres for the Azanian National Liberation Army, AZANLA, helping to take them out of the country for training and financing them clandestinely when they came back into the country.

During the state of emergency in 1986 he was detained for six months and kept in Nystroom where he was interrogated on his political activities. Security forces even dug up the grounds of his surgery with the hope of finding weapons of war.

Dr Hlahla even made frequent trips trips to Zimbabwe to brief members of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania, BCMA, about the direction of the struggle within South Africa.

Imagine what the situation could be if our health workers in clinics and hospitals and those in administration could be just half as dedicated to their work and patients as Dr Tshehla Hlahla was!

Dr Hlahla who was buried on Saturday, 26/08/2017, leaves us a legacy of patriotism, hard work, compassion, service and humility.