Ramaila was a teacher, an evangelist, philosopher, a music composer and an African writer.
Epaphras Mogagabise Ramaila was born into a Northern Sotho or Pedi speaking family on 30 January 1897 in the small village of Lehlakaneng close to Botshabelo Mission Station outside Middelburg in the then Transvaal.
Like his father Nathaniel Pududu Ramaila who was an elder in the Lutheran Church, and described as a rare genius by Mweli (1930) in his The African Who’s Who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal, and was known to be a National Historian, the young Ramaila would become a teacher, an evangelist, philosopher, a music composer and an African writer of note.
By age 18, in 1915, Epaphras had received education at Botshabelo Training School to qualify. It was during his three year training to become a teacher that he also studied to become an evangelist. In the same year, he accepted an assistant teaching post at the Lydenburg Mission School (now in Mpumalanga). This sharp-minded young man would later leave Lydenburg to arrive in Rustenburg to become a principal of two schools before moving on to Saron Lutheran School in Phokeng, where he held a position as a principal. This position was very important as his school was reputable for preparing the Standard 6 class to proceed to Bethel Training School. Going through Epaphras’s hands referred to as a brilliant educator even by the Bafokeng elders, was equated to receiving education from royalty. After years in Phokeng and at age 32, in 1929, an experienced Ramaila returned to his birthplace to take up a post as an assistant teacher at Bethel Training School.
Between 1915 and 1929, while Epaphras was teaching and ministering he become a multi-linguist, excelling in his indigenous language of Sepedi. With his analytical mind, much like that of his late father who lived till 95, he became a notable Sepedi author and philosopher authoring many books across genres – biographical; poetry, history, novels, and short stories. It is on the latter that his work received high regard.
The short stories that displayed a wealth of humour, richness of vocabulary, indigenous idiom, anthropological depth, a blend of poetic presentation and outright depth of thought are Molomatsebe and Taukobong.
He also acquired a vast knowledge of Setswana by the time he left Phokeng to the extent that he had sat on the Setswana bible translation commission. As a multi-linguist, upon returning to Botshabelo he composed music and later on verses, he would even write some hymns in the Lutheran Pedi Hymnal and taught and directed music at the Bethel Training School. From his pen came out classical reads such as Setlogo sa Batau which was published in 1938 and Tsakata published in 1953.
Ramaila spent his youth writing for Abantu-Batho for 12 years. He was 20 years old when he first contributed, in 1917, and went on contributing till age 32 years in 1929.
His contribution to Abantu-Batho for more than a decade, moulded him into a journalist of note as he would later edit the Berlin Mission’s newspaper, Mogwera wa Babaso – Friend of the Blacks. “Even when he was on his death-bed Rev Ramaila insisted on editing his last issue of the Mogwera…He forced himself up and was supported with pillows and thus his last work was done”, wrote Skota in The African Who’s Who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal.
Ramaila passed on at Baragwanath Hospital in 1962 and was buried on one cold snowy day on the 28th day of August, in Johannesburg.
Bopape, M.L. 1998. Northern Sotho Historical Dramas: A Historical-Biographical Analysis. Department of African Languages, University of South Africa. Doctor of Literature and Philosophy.
Limb, P. ed. 2012. The People’s Paper: A Centenary History and Anthology of Abantu-Batho. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, p.25 Skota Mweli, T.D. 1930. The African Who’s Who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal. S.l., p.p.54-56.
Image courtesy of Skota Mweli, T.D. 1930. The African Who’s Who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal. S.l., p.p.54-56.