Durban - Freedom fighter Laloo Chiba died on Friday morning at his home in Lenasia - aged 87.
He was hospitalised after a mild heart attack a few days earlier but had been discharged.
Chiba served time on Robben Island as a political prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and others.
He was a former platoon commander in the military wing of the ANC and was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment on Robben Island.
Chiba regarded Kathrada as his best friend and political mentor and was inconsolable after he died in March.
After Kathrada’s death, Chiba spent his last months continuing his work at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which is committed to fighting non-racialism and oppression worldwide.
Chiba was a founder member of the foundation.
Among his last projects was joining hundreds of South Africans nationwide in a fast in solidarity with the people of Palestine and supporting marches and protest action against Zionist oppression there.
Chiba’s death has brought to an end an era in South Africa’s democracy for the people of Lenasia, where he, Kathrada and another late veteran, Shirish Nanabhai, were well-known as the veteran trio, who returned home after Mandela was freed.
Chiba is survived by his wife Luxmi, his three daughters and grandchildren.
He was cremated at the Avalon Cemetery in Lenasia on Saturday afternoon after a memorial service earlier in the day at the Nirvana School hall, which was attended by hundreds of people, including representatives of organisations as diverse as religious, welfare, cultural and sports bodies that Chiba had been associated with.
Shan Balton, executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said at the service it was Chiba’s wish that he not have a state funeral and no money should be wasted on flowers, but that it be used for charitable purposes.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who was a prisoner with Chiba on Robben Island, was the main speaker.
He recalled how he and others had always relied on Chiba’s meticulous attention to detail during the decade that he had served in Parliament.
“Comrade Isu had a very forensic mind, because he could interrogate very complex and difficult issues and pull out the details of a very complex matter. He served as a leading light in our structures after the ANC was unbanned. He never, ever, imposed himself or his views as views of a leader. He was always prepared to engage and to listen,” Motlanthe said.
On a lighter note, Motlanthe told how Chiba refused to wear a tie as a parliamentarian, sticking to his open-necked shirt.
Another close friend of the Chiba family, Deputy Minister Andries Nel, spoke on how Chiba drove every day from Lenasia to Pretoria, spent a full day in the office, visited branches, and then drove back.
“Despite his age, he made many a young lion stop roaring and mieow from sheer exhaustion. During this time, many of us learned first-hand what Comrade Isu meant when he talked about disciple and revolutionary morality,” Nel said.
There were also many other tributes in the wake of Chiba’s demise.
President Jacob Zuma earlier expressed his condolences in a statement.
“On behalf of government and the people of the Republic of South Africa, we wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the Chiba family, relatives and the African National Congress, on the loss of this outstanding leader and patriot,” Zuma said.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a tribute that “Mr L (as he was fondly known at the foundation) was the personification of humility and avoided self-promotion, preferring instead to nurture young people to become fighters for human rights and non-racialism in a democratic South Africa".
“He served with distinction in Parliament after 1994 and supported many initiatives (including the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation) designed to deepen and defend the country’s democracy.”
High Commissioner for India, Ruchira Kamboj, said her country had “deep respect” for Chiba.
“He was one of those men who fought and lived for his ideals and he was as much a son of India as he was for South Africa,” Kamboj said.