Let it be known that we pay tribute to Patrick Ricketts – A Fighter to the end

The Veterans League in the Western Cape learnt with shock and sadness about the news of the death of Patrick Ricketts. He was a character in the ranks of the ANC and MK veterans who would never miss. His distinctive beards and somehow falling glasses defined the character. In the ranks of the ANC, he was simply known as Blah. He also referred to people not as comrades or leaders but merely – as Blah. This is the simplicity that we in the Veterans League appreciate, something we hoped would be the kind of character of an ANC member. A member marked by modesty and simplicity. Therefore, as the Veterans League, we declare as we write this tribute about Blah that comrades in the ranks of the ANC in Western Cape should know that we pay tribute to a hero known at home as Patrick Ricketts but also known as Blah.

We in the Veterans League spoke to several comrades and people who have interacted with Blah throughout his life. All attest to one thing about him: he was a real mensch.  This is the person who left his home together with many others from his home town, Paarl, to seek better means of fighting the Apartheid system. This was the year of the mid-1980s when the violence and brutality of the Apartheid government needed more and more to swell the ranks of MKs in order to be equipped with better skills in fighting. The process started with the uprisings in the Vaal Triangle in 1984 and quickly spread across South Africa to the shining pearl stone of Paarl. This development led OR Tambo to correctly declare the 1980s as the decade of liberation.

Blah and his group from the areas of Paarl, Worcester, Robertson, in the area of and Boland were all the products of death-defying youth.  He received his training in Angola in a camp called Caxito. Incidentally, the same camp which had the current Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Cde Thabang Makwetla, was the camp commissar. He was lucky to share his life in Caxito with some of his comrades from Paarl and one, the late Mthetheleli “JJ” Titana, who became famous for his soccer prowess and gained the nickname “Mfeneyayigugi”. Caxito camp was meant for shorter courses or what was called crash courses. However, according to Cde Thabang Makwetla, the Blah group stayed slightly longer than planned.

 This is the group of the mid-1980s that OR Tambo, the Commander in Chief of MK, called the Young Lions Detachment. They were named as such in honour and celebration of a death-defying youth of the mid-80s who, with their agility, stones, and petrol bombs, Apartheid being unworkable and South Africa being ungovernable. They were youth who were prepared to trade their freedom with cowering down to the brutality of the system of Apartheid. Nelson Mandela, in 1986 had this to this:

I am not a violent man. My colleagues and I wrote to Malan in 1952 asking for a round table conference to find solutions to the problems of our country, but that was ignored. When Strijdom was in power, we made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When Verwoerd was in power we asked for a national convention for all the people of South Africa to decide on their future. This too was in vain. It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us, that we turned to the armed struggle.

Similarly, Blah did not join the struggle because he enjoyed violence or the discomforts visited by his family. He did so because all doors were closed, and the choice was to surrender to servile and brutality of oppression.

As Cde Thabang Makwetla describes, he was just Blah in the camp. A purist and fundamentalist who helped to keep us on course under difficult moments. He was never intimidated by the rigours of the road less travelled.

Nat Serache describes him as follows, “those who walked with giants and never lost the common touch know that Blah belonged to that company. While others insisted on being addressed using titles, Blah was proud to count the foot soldiers of the revolution. His small but assertive voice rose from Paarl’s streets, growing up and multiplying. Comrade Blah was a voice of the people who refused to call a spade a big spoon used in the garden. He was a product of the masses and always refused to tell them half-truths, even when his honesty stepped on some big toes. His greatness lay in the fact that he was humble but flatly refused to be timid”.

The Parabat Veterans Organisation  (PVO) makes very interesting comments about Blah, who they call Blaz. They wrote that Blaz (sic) is an ex-MK soldier who has previously repatriated MK remains from other countries. He knows everyone in the SA government as well as many Angolan government and military influential people. Blaz was a vital key to the Angolan embassy and the SA Dirco, which both helped make our project possible. As many of you now know, we were asked by the Angolan embassy to solve a problem that had received no satisfaction since 1981. They wanted to know what we had done with their FAPLA Capt. Jeronimo. After an exhaustive investigation, the PVO established the fate of Capt. Jeronimo, much to the relief of both the Angolan ambassador and Capt. Jeronimo’s widow, Rita. (For those who may now know what Parabat is. This is the 1 Parachute Battalion, established in 1961, involved in cross-border incursions. But post 1994, it was part of the integration into the SANDF.

These testimonials about Blah reflect one singular characteristic: the ability to reach out to any person and across any divide.  the kind of a person he was. During his deployment in Botswana, he was known by many and became handy in the support system and securing of safe houses. He was able to establish many useful contacts for the underground. As a mechanic whose skill was sought by many, there was no job too small for him.

Post 1994, Blah integrated into the SANDF and became a colonel. He retired to focus on his internationalist duties and his calling of bridging the people gap. He became central in the repatriation of many of his comrades who died in Angola. He facilitated that they are buried in Paarl and was central in the establishment of the Heroes Acre there. He also established the liberation route between South Africa, Namibia and Angola and linked up, as attested by PVA, even forces opposed to the ANC.

It is also gratifying to state that when the NPA Missing Persons Missing People Task Team ultimately managed to locate and identify the remains of Billy Holiday (Norman Pieterse), it was Blah who was central in identifying both the family and place of Billy Holiday. After some efforts, he managed, and thus, a sad chapter of this dear cadre of MK was closed with the family being able to give them closure and bury their son in a dignified manner.

As the Western Cape Veterans League, we dip our revolutionary banner in salute and honour of this great patriot. We know how hard it will be for Blah’s wife, Farieda and family. Farieda herself, a former member of MK, was arrested together with her young son, Timol (named after Ahmed Timol), by the Apartheid regime. As Farieda said, conveying the message of the passing on of her dearest husband, “Blah’s march was cut short this morning. The Grace of Almighty he joins his son Timol…He had a full and fruitful life. Sadly, he left us too early”.

Fortunately, his wish shall be satisfied as he shall be buried in his hometown of Paarl in the Heroes Acre he was an architect of. We reach out to his family and children and salute them for borrowing this humble hero of our people for the just cause of freedom. Let it be known to them, too, as we pay tribute to this fighter, that he remained true to the cause of the ANC till his last days. As the ANC is now to face the battle of election and the celebration of thirty years of freedom, there shall be an unpicked ballot paper, which certainly was to be in the hands of Patrick Ricketts and would have added his cross to yet another mandate to the ANC for it to serve the people of South Africa.

The Western Cape Veterans League is ready and prepared, together with our comrades in the MKLWV, to give this hero of our people a deserving send-off. You struggled all your life, and you never feared a moment would come when we, the living, would sing our goodbyes to you. You were, indeed, one of those indispensable ones, Blah.


By Ernest Theron
Provincial Secretary
Veterans League, Western Cape