File picture: Matlhodi Madibana

Polokwane - Former army general Gabriel Ramushwana has died aged 73, his family said on Tuesday.

Ramushwana died at the Thaba Tshwane Military hospital in Pretoria on Monday after a long battle with colon cancer, his family said.

He was a brigadier of the National Peacekeeping Force established in the run up to the country's first democratic election.

He was among the first troops South Africa's democratic government sent to lead peacekeeping missions in war-torn countries.

His son Gabriel Ramushwana said his father left a heroic legacy.

“It is a loss because we still wanted to hold on to him. Though we saw that he was sick, we still wanted him to be with us.”

He said the man who helped overthrow the Venda bantustan government had moved from Musina to Pretoria to be closer to hospital as his visits became more frequent.

In the apartheid era Ramushwana became head of state of the now defunct Venda homeland.

It later emerged that he helped train Umkhonto we Sizwe fighters. He appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission alongside SA Community Party leader Chris Hani.

“A lot of soldiers in the national defence force in high-ranking positions were also trained by him, and he also secretly trained freedom fighters near Thohoyandou,” his son said.

Funeral arrangements were yet to be disclosed, the family said.