Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
DPME Banner
Chairperson and CEO of the National Heritage Council (NHC), Adv. Sonwabile Mancotywa
My predecessor in the Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad
Chairperson of the National Heritage Council, Dr Marcus Balintulo
The CEO of Freedom Park, Ms Jane Mufamadi
The CEO of O.R. Tambo Foundation, Ms Linda Vilkazi
The CEO of SAMSA, Mr Sobantu Tilayi
Retired Judge of the Constitutional Court, Justice Albie Sachs
Ambassador Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen;
1.    Introduction
I must declare from the outset that I accepted the invitation to speak at this august occasion with a bit of trepidation. For to speak of the late Oliver Reginald (O.R.) Tambo is to speak of a towering intellectual with unparalleled leadership virtues. He remains the crucible from which we seek inspiration and a figure that we must strive to emulate.
It is indeed my immense honour and a privilege to talk about this gallant leader in The Year of OR Tambo, as declared by President Zuma. Tambo would have turned 100 years old on 27 October this year, had he continued to live. What is seldom mentioned is that this year also marks fifty years since Tambo assumed the reigns of leadership in the ANC. He took over after the passing of Chief Albert Luthuli in July 1967.
Tambo selflessly dedicated his life to the liberation of the people of South Africa regardless of colour, creed or partisan political affiliation. He was the glue that held the various strands of the national democratic revolution together for almost thirty years. It was because of his erudite leadership that he brought back the ANC intact after decades of exile.
We celebrate Tambo’s memory today because he remains one of the most outstanding leaders that this country has ever produced. The purpose of celebrating exceptional leaders like Tambo is not to wallow in the glory of our past, but to use the past as a means to inspire our future growth as a nation.
We must celebrate excellence in leadership as a means of recognising the positive contribution that outstanding leaders make in our society. This also helps us to preserve our stories for posterity. We have the duty to preserve our heritage so that future generations understand the significance of the sacrifices that were made for us to be where we are today.
The obvious question that is often asked on occasions like these is: what would Tambo do or say with regard to the challenges that confront our society today? My humble attempt at answering this question draws from the principles that Tambo stood for and cherished in his lifetime. This question also compels us to weigh our performance as government and the country in relation to the vision, values and principles that Tambo espoused.
2.    Building a Better Africa and a Better World
It is fitting that we close Africa Month with a tribute to this great leader, O.R. Tambo, an internationalist par excellence. The theme for Africa Month, “The Year of OR Tambo: Building and Better Africa and a Better World”, is in line with the values and the vision that Tambo espoused throughout his life in the struggle for liberation.
It is without doubt that Tambo would have been proud that South Africa is at the forefront of celebrating Africa Month. Unity amongst Africans on the continent, in the diaspora and across the globe featured prominently in his core values. One of the principles that undergird Tambo’s leadership was the unity of people of the world against oppression. It was in pursuit of unity of liberation movements that he wrote in the New Age in 1956: 
“Petty differences among the African people and their organisations where they exist must be submerged in the interests of a firm unity in the face of attack by the Nationalists.”
Tambo traversed the continent and galvanised different African countries to be in solidarity not only with the ANC, but with the entire South African liberation movement inclusive of different political formations. In 1960, he was instrumental in establishing a South African United Front with the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the South West Africa National Union (SWANU).
He raised funds for the movement and represented us at world forums such as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations (UN). Many countries recognised him as a diplomat and accorded him the status of a head of state. Subsequent to his efforts, the ANC had Chief Representatives in several countries across the African continent. 
It is in respect of his formidable role in uniting the African peoples that the theme of building a better Africa and a better world resonates with Tambo’s vision.
3.    International Solidarity
Tambo was sent to exile by the national leadership of the ANC after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. His mission in exile was loud and clear – to establish a foreign mission and escalate the struggle to an international level.
He identified Moses Kotane, JB Marks and Duma Nokwe as trusted and capable cadres to assist him in building the movement in exile. This formidable team was not only strategic in waging a strong fight against the apartheid regime, but it also established a solid foundation for the tripartite alliance.
For Tambo, a devout Christian who was on the verge of being ordained as an Anglican priest before he went to exile, to nominate staunch communists—Kotane and Marks– to work closely with him, was a reflection of the visionary leader that he was. He understood that ideological differences cannot stand in the way of the revolution.
4.    A Dynamic and Multidimensional Leader
Those who were fortunate to get to know and interact with Tambo would testify that he was a dynamic and multidimensional being. He had very diverse interests that were by no means contradictory with his core principles.
Today, we celebrate Tambo a maths and science teacher, a lawyer, a devout Christian, an internationalist, a global leader, a unifier, a revolutionary, a music composer, a loving husband, a responsible father, to name but a few. In short, we celebrate a courageous leader who selflessly devoted his life in service of the people of South Africa.
Any interaction with Tambo was an unforgettable experience. I consider myself privileged to have known and worked with him. I remember him as the epitome of incisive leadership, intellect and high moral standards. 
My first personal encounter with him is still etched in my memory as if it was only yesterday. It was in 1978 and I was working for Radio Freedom in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when he visited the station. The ANC’s Department of Information and Publicity fell under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President.
While we respected him for being such a colossal figure in the liberation movement, Tambo’s humility and quiet wisdom gave us a sense of comfort around him. He proved to be a compassionate human being and a great listener who valued diverse opinions. He was very patient with us as young cadres and shared incisive ideas about strategies and tactics to send ANC messages home and across the world.
Tambo was a meticulous leader who approached everything with vigilance. I can distinctly remember a situation where one senior ANC leader painstakingly researched, wrote and rewrote a speech for the President, and when he thought it was perfect, he handed over to him. Upon receiving the speech, OR did his own editing and butchered the speech to such an extent that the fellow comrade could not recognise his own writing in it.
He was also a hands-on revolutionary leader who was never scared to get his hands dirty.  During the Wankie campaign, Tambo alongside James Chikerema, the Vice-President of the Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU), was in the trenches and personally saw off the Luthuli detachment as they crossed the Zambezi River to wage one of the fiercest attacks against the South African Defence Force and its allies.
This detachment, comprised of UMkhonto weSizwe (MK) and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) soldiers, courageously fought the South African forces in one of the epic military confrontations of our liberation struggle.
5.    The Vision of a Free and Democratic South Africa
As a visionary leader, Tambo was able to anticipate the kind of challenges that we would face as a governing party as opposed to liberation movement. He knew that the mere jettisoning of apartheid was not going to transform ours into a utopian society.
He wanted us to be ready for the transition and confront the challenges of governance. He sounded the alarm bells to the ANC cadres in Angola as far back as 1977: “Comrades, you might think it is very difficult to wage a liberation struggle. Wait until you are in power. By then, you will realise that it is actually more difficult to keep the power than to wage a liberation war.”
We must pay heed to Tambo’s warning and work together in developing a truly liberated, non-racial, united and equal society. Our country is currently facing a litany of challenges that require us to join hands and march in unison towards our common destination of a better and more prosperous South Africa.
It is at moments like these that men and women of strength prove their mettle as resilient leaders. Our integrity is not tested at times of peace but at times of strife. The hallmark of sound leadership is the ability to admit to our follies, take full responsibility of our missteps and self-correct.
In the same spirit, we must concede that while we have endeavoured to provide basic services to the people of South Africa, there are perennial challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality that still confront us. South Africa remains a significantly unequal society and the black majority, who were oppressed under apartheid, are still wallowing in the doldrums of poverty more than twenty years into the democratic dispensation.
Given the fact that the current administration is left with less than two years in its term of office, we cannot do things the same way and expect different results. We have engaged on a higher gear to expedite transformation and service delivery. It is against this backdrop that we strive to ensure that government programmes are implemented with maximum alacrity.
At this juncture in our democratic society, it is prudent that we seek wisdom from the profound words of this gallant leader. Tambo articulated his vision clearly and eloquently when he said, “Racial discrimination, South Africa’s economic power, its oppression and exploitation of all the black peoples, are part and parcel of the same thing.”
In this manner, Tambo gave us a forewarning that political freedom would be meaningless without economic freedom. It for this reason that we need all hands on deck in our endeavour to promote inclusive growth and transforming the economy and society for the benefit of all South Africans.
We need to exploit the strategic levers at the disposal of government – including the budget, legislation; procurement; licences; transformation charters, development finance institutions and state-owned companies. We must witness fundamental change in the lives of ordinary South Africans in deepening freedom and democracy.
Honoured Guests,
It is no doubt that one of Tambo’s most outstanding traits was that of a unifier. The most fitting tribute that we can pay to him is to reinforce unity, social cohesion and nationhood amongst all South Africans. Let us uphold the values and the vision that Tambo stood for and cherished during his lifetime.
I must commend the Department of Arts and Culture and all partnering organisations for undertaking this important initiative. The name of O.R. Tambo must be known and cherished by future generations.
The celebration of the life of O.R. Tambo is a constant reminder that our freedom was not free. We honour all the martyrs who paid the ultimate price in pursuit of our freedom. We say their lives were not lost in vain.
Tambo’s name will never be erased from the face of history. His wisdom is deeply entrenched in our collective memory.
Thank you.
Enquiries: / 083 276 0786 or Mmabatho Ramompi on 076 4803513 or
Follow the conversation on: #ORCentenary #ORCentenaryTalks
Follow us on @dpmeofficial/ radebe_jeff Facebook: Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation
Issued by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME)
30 May 2017
Copyright © DPME     Terms & Conditions | Disclaimer | Legal | Privacy Policy | Webmaster