Ngoako Abel Ramatlhodi was born on 21 August 1955 at Tauyatswala small village near Polokwane, in Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province). Ramatlhodi's father was a mineworker while his mother a housewife. He was nicknamed “Montsho” and had five siblings, two sisters and three brothers. Ramatlhodi completed his secondary education at Tembisa High in Tembisa Township, Johannesburg. Upon completion of his matric, he decided to enrol for law studies at the University of the North (renamed University of Limpopo in 2003). The decision was made after he witnessed a humiliating treatment meted out to his brother by prison warders. His brother was doing time in jail for a possession of unlicensed firearm. During one of his visitation Ramatlhodi was made to squat for the entire period and not allowed to sit either on the chair or floor.
In 1976 he enrolled for a B.Juris at the University of the North. At the University he joined the Marimba Artists group, which was mainly focused on writing poetries and playing dramas. While other members of the group wrote political poetry, Ramatlhodi wrote about his life. His transition from a poet to a politician was precipitated by Gibson Kente Drama play called “ How Long ”. He was also inspired by Sam Mahangwane and Thami Mnyele
His ambitions to become a lawyer were interrupted when he was expelled from the University for political reasons on two occasions. He was first expelled in 1977 and admitted back to the University to proceed with his studies. During his return to the University in 1977 Ramatlhodi had joined the African National Congress (ANC) after a trip to Botswana. After his second expulsion in 1979, Ramatlhodi hauled the University before the court for unlawful expulsion. After the court case, which dragged from April to August, Ramatlhodi returned to the University to see thorough the remaining duration of his academic programme. Unfortunately he did not pass his final year examinations and was refused admission the following year. He thus worked for a Johannesburg based lawyer for six month until he went into exile on 17 July 1980.
Ramatlhodi initially found exile life in Lesotho extremely lonely until he enrolled for a BA Law degree at the University of Lesotho in Roma in August 1981. When he graduated in 1984, Ramatlhodi had already established himself in the ANC and Committee for Action and Solidarity for South African Students on campus. He wrote and did editing for Vanguard magazine in this period. In 1986 completed his LLB with the same university, where he came first in his class after final year examinations, and he subsequently left Lesotho following the 1986 coup, which dethroned Leabua Jonathan.
From May 1986-88 Ramatlhodi was deployed by the ANC to Zimbabwe via Zambia, wherein he completed his MSC in International Relations at the University of Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe he was appointed as the head of the Regional Politico-Military Committee (RPMC) in the ANC. Ramatlhodi was subsequently recalled back by the ANC leadership to Zambia, he became a speechwriter for the late Oliver Tambo
After 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa which were won by the ANC, Ramatlhodi was appointed the Premier of the Northern Transvaal now Limpopo by Nelson Mandela. After serving for full two term of office as the Premier speculations were rife that he would take over from outgoing Bulelani Ngcuka as the new head of National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) or become Minister of Justice. Prior to the announcement of the new head of NPA, information started circulating which allegedly tainted his name, ultimately ruling him out of contention of the post. He was accused of corruption and shady business dealings during his tenure as a premier. In spite of these allegations, the ANC deployed him to its headquarters (Luthuli House) in Johannesburg. In 2005 elections in Zimbabwe, he led the ANC delegations to oversee the whole election process on the invitation of the Zimbabwean government.
He is married to Ouma Mathuding and they have one son, Setlhodiane.