Thank you, Programme
Senior Management in The
Government Officials present
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is an honour for me to be
presented with the opportunity to pay homage to a great South African and a distinguished
leader of the national democratic revolution, Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo.
Tambo remains the longest
serving president of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party, having
led the national democratic revolution for almost thirty years. We cannot tell
the history of South Africa’s liberation struggle without mentioning the
prominent role played by Tambo as the towering leader of the struggle. He
belongs to the pantheon of African liberation struggle heroes with great
integrity and indisputable loyalty and commitment to the cause.
Many have rightfully argued
that O.R. Tambo cannot die, for his legacy lives on. He left indelible
footprints in our collective memory and his vision as the leader of our
liberation movement is entrenched in the contours of our democratic society. To
reflect on the life of OR is to delve into the crevices of the history of our
OR Tambo’s leadership
virtues remain unparalleled. I was fortunate to have interacted with him during
his lifetime. I remember him as the epitome of incisive leadership, intellect
and high moral standards. He was the glue that held the national democratic
revolution together during the most difficult times.
Like Moses from the Biblical
scriptures, who stood on mountain top and saw but never reached the Promised Land,
Tambo passed away on the eve of our freedom in South Africa. Even though he
never reached the “promised land,” as a great visionary, Tambo nurtured leaders
and shaped a movement that would lead South Africa into the democratic
Our current President, His
Excellency Jacob Zuma, as well as his predecessor, President Thabo Mbeki, stand
out as some of the shining examples of young leaders who were mentored by
Comrade OR. He ensured that he left a lasting legacy.
Year of OR Tambo
Oliver Reginald Kaizana
Tambo was born on 27 October 1917, and he would have turned 100 years old this
year, should he have continued to live. He passed away 24 years ago, in the
early hours of 24 April 1993. President Zuma appropriately declared 2017 as The Year of O.R. Tambo.
declaration helped to ensure that the life of this gallant leader is part of
the public discourse. We recognise the role that OR Tambo played in the
liberation struggle and the founding of our democratic society through the
theme: “Life and Legacy of OR Tambo.”
Subsequently, themes for national days
such as Human Rights Day, Freedom Day, Youth Day and Heritage Day, were all
aligned with the overall theme of celebrating the legacy of O.R. Tambo.
The President appointed a
committee to preside over the preparations for the celebration of this milestone.
It has been a great honour for me to lead this Inter-Ministerial Committee
(IMC) comprised of leaders from the three tiers of government – from local,
provincial and national. This structure made the coordination of this event seamless.
It also created a platform for exchange of ideas so that we can have a yearlong
commemorative programme befitting a man of OR’s stature.
have seen government departments, state-owned enterprises, businesses, civil
society and members of the public, paying tribute to this gallant leader of our
people. I must take this opportunity to thank all the stakeholders that paid
homage to OR during the course of the year. I am sure he is smiling down on us,
pleased that South Africans of all walks of life embrace his ideals and
celebrate his legacy.
A number of eminent persons
have spoken eloquently about this gallant leader of our people at various
events, and I am truly privileged to close the OR Tambo Month with my own
tribute. I must declare from the outset that the sentiments that have been
expressed by various speakers during the course of the month are a true
reflection of the OR I know.
Indeed, OR Tambo was a great
humanitarian and a remarkable leader to work with. To speak of OR Tambo is to
speak of a man of integrity, a towering intellectual and an erudite leader. He
remains the crucible from which we seek inspiration and a figure that we must
strive to emulate.
The OR Tambo I know was a
versatile and multidimensional leader. 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. OR epitomised servitude.
We celebrate Tambo’s memory
because he remains one of the most outstanding leaders that this country has
ever produced. You do not need to be a member of the ANC in order to recognise
and appreciate Tambo’s selfless dedication to the service of the people of
South Africa. We must celebrate excellence in leadership as a means of
recognising the positive contribution that our citizens make in society.
and Youth Activist
global leader that we are celebrating today is a product of a small rural
village of Nkantolo, beyond the Engeli Mountains, in what was known as
Pondoland in the Eastern Cape Province. Those who have read about the Pondo
Revolt, which another stalwart and towering intellectual giant of our
liberation struggle, Govan Mbeki, wrote extensively about, would understand
that OR Tambo was born in the region of revolutionaries.
is reported that he was named Kaizana as a tribute to Kaizer Wilhelm of
Germany, who fought against the British during the First World War. This was
his father’s way of defying the British colonial powers. Even though he did not
receive formal schooling, Tambo’s father understood the value of education and
was determined to ensure that his children were not deprived of the opportunity
to learn. He gave his horse to his son so he could ride to school, which was
about 16 kilometres away from their village.
completing high school, Tambo studied at the historic University College of
Fort Hare, where he met his long time companion, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. He
initially wanted to study medicine, but none of the tertiary institutions in
South Africa could admit him into the course as a black African student. He
completed a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and physics.
was at Fort Hare where his leadership skills became prominent. As the Secretary
of the Students Representative Council (SRC), Tambo led a defiance against the
university authorities, resulting in his expulsion from the University. He had
difficulty in securing a job because of his expulsion from Fort Hare. He was
finally offered a teaching position in his alma mater, St Peters Secondary
School in Rosettenville, where he taught Maths and Science. He is renowned a
one of the best teachers of these subjects at the time.
worked as a teacher while at the same time pursuing further studies in the
legal field. He qualified as an attorney in 1951, and together with Mandela
they formed the Mandela and Tambo law firm. They were some of the pioneering
legal minds in the black community, and their services were in great demand as
they continued to fight for the destitute, the oppressed and the marginalised.
their legal practice was burgeoning, Mandela and Tambo continued with their
activism at the organisational level. Tambo was one of the founding members of
the ANC Youth League alongside Anton Lembede, Mandela and Walter Sisulu, among
others in 1944. He was appointed as the National Secretary of the ANC Youth
League and served in the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC from the
youthful age of thirty-one.
a young activist, Tambo was a trailblazer who played a prominent role in
shaping the course of the South African struggle for liberation. Even as an
elder, comrade OR was a staunch believer in youth development. He was the kind
of leader who was concerned about continuity, and always ensured that he
nurtured young talent to take over from his generation. One of his most
memorable utterances was when he declared:
“The Children of any nation are its future. A country, a
movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve
OR was equally passionate about the emancipation of women. In November 1983, he
released a statement declaring 1984 as the year of women. The statement partly
“We shall do this not merely to pay
tribute to the embattled but struggling womenfolk of our country and to honour
their historic achievements, such as the founding of the South African Women`s
Federation on April 17, 1954. We have thus dedicated the coming year as
confirmation of the resolve of the South African national liberation movement
to see the women of our motherland play their rightful role in the forefront of
the struggle for the destruction of the monstrous system of apartheid and the
creation of a peaceful, democratic and non-racial South Africa.”
He said one of the
fundamental tasks that this process of national liberation confronts is the
liberation of the women of our country from their triple oppression on the
grounds of sex, class and colour. He stated that the struggle in South Africa
constituted an important component in the universal offensive for a peaceful
world whose human and material resources should serve to enhance life in all
its parts, whether spiritual or material.
He ensured that women did not remain on the periphery but occupied
strategic positions in the movement.
celebrate Tambo today because of his endearing teachings, principles and
values. He proved to be a teacher in the classroom, a teacher in the boardroom
and a teacher in the battlefield. Under his stewardship, the national
democratic revolution remained intact until he brought it back home after the
unbanning of political parties in 1990.
4. An Internationalist and Champion of African Solidarity
OR Tambo was an
internationalist par excellence and a champion of African solidarity. He was
sent to exile by the national leadership of the ANC after the Sharpeville
massacre in 1960. As the head of the ANC’s diplomatic mission, his task in
exile was loud and clear – to escalate the struggle to an international level.
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.”
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).
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. Shortly after he left the country,
he engaged with prominent African leaders such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania,
Ntsu Mokhehle of Lesotho and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and who all affirmed their
support for the national democratic revolution.
He identified Moses Kotane,
JB Marks and Duma Nokwe as trusted and capable cadres to assist him in building
the movement in exile. Kotane was the General Secretary of the South African
Communist Party (SACP), Treasurer General of the ANC and a key figure in the
formation of progressive trade union movements in South Africa. Similarly,
Marks had been the trade unionist, President of the African Mine Workers and
also the President of the ANC in Transvaal. Nokwe was the Secretary-General of
the ANC and one of the most revered intellectuals in the liberation movement.
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, which remained
a resilient force for decades. 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 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. The common enemy was the apartheid regime.
In his international
undertakings, Tambo proved to be a highly perceptive internationalist. 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. The ANC
received substantial military assistance from socialist countries such as Cuba,
the Soviet Union, as well as several African countries.
Dynamic and Multidimensional Leader
Those who were fortunate to get
to know and interact with OR 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.
Any interaction with Tambo was
an unforgettable experience. 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 an incident
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
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.
Visionary 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 the 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.”
Many of us had never
been in government before 1994, but we managed to have a relatively smooth
transition because Comrade OR prepared us for the new dispensation. He ensured that
ANC cadres, many of whom just wanted to be militants who would fight the
apartheid regime in the battlefield, received education as the basis for future
development of the country. His vision was to ensure that the ANC ranks were
filled with professionals and experts in a variety of fields. I am one of the
beneficiaries of OR Tambo’s vision in this regard.
It is not an
exaggeration to say our constitution today has got the DNA of Comrade OR all
over it. One of the landmarks in our road to freedom was in 1987, when he
appointed a commission of ANC legal minds to draw up a constitution to reflect
the kind of a country that the ANC and the people of South Africa wanted. To
some this might have seemed like a pipe dream, but to OR it was an imminent
In 1988, he appointed
a team to draw up the ANC’s position and approach to negotiations. Comrade OR epitomised
consultative leadership, as he drew views from both the ANC in exile as well as
from the Mass Democratic Movement inside South Africa. Following extensive
discussions with the leaders of the frontline states, Tambo worked closely with
the team that drafted the Harare Declaration. The Declaration stated that:
believe that a conjuncture of circumstances exist which, if there is a
demonstrable readiness on the Pretoria regime to engage in negotiations
genuinely and seriously, could create the possibility to end apartheid through
Declaration paved the way for the negotiations that culminated with the first
democratic elections. We would never have made these strides if it was not for
the incisive leadership of Comrade OR. He is the architect of our democratic
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.
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 an 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
As the democratically
elected government, we must strive to reverse the legacy of apartheid, which is
deeply entrenched in our socio-economic conditions. We must find inspiration
from the words of Amilcar Cabral, who once gave an injunction that:
“Always bear in mind that the people are
not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to
win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go
forward and to guarantee the future of their children.”
It is at moments like these
that men and women of honour prove their mettle. 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
At this juncture in our
democratic society, it is prudent that we seek wisdom from the profound words
of this icon. 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 is 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.
The passing of
Comrade OR in 1993, shortly after the tragic death of another stalwart, Chris
Hani, might have expedited the negotiations process for the first democratic
elections in South Africa. When we went to the polls on 27 April 1994, many of us
had OR Tambo in mind. For we knew that he spent his lifetime fighting for the
freedom of our people. The dawn of democracy was indeed the triumph of human
In summing up this
presentation, one can confidently say OR Tambo was a selfless individual and a
man of principle. He was ethical leadership personified. He was everything that
you could envision from an ideal leader. His humility and incisive words of
wisdom reverberate from beyond the grave.
It is no doubt that
one of Tambo’s most outstanding traits was that of a unifier. As a tribute to
Tambo we must reinforce unity, social cohesion and nationhood amongst all South
Africans. He devoted his life to the liberation struggle so that we can enjoy
the fruits of freedom today. We must cherish our freedom and democracy in
honour of Tambo and all those who sacrificed their lives.
It is disheartening that
some members of our society would be hell-bent on preserving the legacy of our
divided past. The recent incidents of a group of white people brandishing the
flag of the apartheid regime and burning the flag of a democratic society is
provocative and highly polarising. It flies in the face of what OR Tambo and other
martyrs fought and died for. Such incidents must be condemned in the strongest
They clearly have not
learned from the recent sentencing of the hooligans behind the “Coffin
Assault.” Our law must ensure that actions such as this one are punishable and
offenders are sent to long prison sentences. These incidents go against our
spirit of Nation Building and Social Cohesion. They portray us as the “skunk of
the world” that President Mandela spoke about so contemptuously in his
inaugural address on 10 May 1994. The life of OR Tambo should be 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. The best way to pay tribute to Tambo is to uphold the values and the
vision that he stood for and cherished during his lifetime.
Let us derive inspiration
from the incisive leadership and selflessness of Tambo. Tambo’s name will never
be erased from the face of history. His wisdom is deeply entrenched in our
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