The cause for a united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal and prosperous society for which Oliver Tambo and his generation dedicated their lives, must triumph.
It must triumph because, at this historical juncture, volunteers and cadres of his organisation are resolute to deliver an emphatic victory on May 8 for Africa’s tried and tested glorious liberation movement, the African National Congress.
We salute them for their discipline, humility, and indefatigable spirit as they move inch-by-inch, from house to house, and from street to street organising the people and renewing their pledge to deliver the National Democratic Society.
Oliver Tambo must have had their calibre in mind when he said in 1985: “The distinctive feature of the revolutionary cadre is a high level of discipline, dedication and courage in carrying out the tasks assigned by the movement. Such cadres are guided by our goal of a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa.”
We raise our banner of black, green, and gold in honour of our volunteers and revolutionary cadres for guaranteeing that as long as the ANC lives, Oliver Tambo and the ideals which he cherished remain a cornerstone of the new society that we are building brick by brick, day by day.
Love for people and steadfast commitment to justice is the soul and essence of all great revolutionaries. And Oliver Tambo was the incarnation par excellence of that deep love for humanity.
Not for once, did his focus veer from the goal of national liberation. He was a torch-bearer for non-racialism and a standard-bearer for gender equality.
The grave could not bury this magnanimous, gentle giant of the national democratic revolution. It had no power to silence his unbreakable spirit of resistance against injustice.
Each time we dip into our Constitution, we discover Tambo’s genetic code foretelling that national unity must underpin the reconstruction and development of our beautiful land. Even in his eternal rest, his soul radiates and his values continue to be a beacon of light in our efforts to build a people-centred society that honours human dignity and equality.
Understanding that black women suffered the triple oppression of race, class, and gender, OR Tambo did more to shine the light to advance gender equality and respect for women in our movement. In 1981 in Angola, he insisted that women in the ANC “have a duty to liberate us men from antique concepts and attitudes about the place and role of women in society and the development and direction of our revolutionary struggle”.
An enthusiastic teacher, a life-long accomplished learner, and a founding member of the militant ANC Youth League, Tambo was always passionate about the empowerment of the youth. He insisted that it is the youth that inherits the future of a country. He is fondly remembered by his caution that a nation that does not value its youth does not deserve its future.
We will always remember OR as the impeccable magnet that kept the ANC together during its most dangerous, trying time of exile and heightened repression.
He is fondly missed for his calmness under strain, his abiding humility, and his immutable revolutionary morality.
We honour him for his humble and trustworthy nature which attracted people with divergent views as well as his special gift of consensus building. He trusted those he worked with and remained a respectful, sincere, patient listener.
In Tambo, the ANC had a genuine democrat, a keen teacher, and an admired internationalist who laid the foundation for South Africa’s foreign policy. Above all, he was a champion of political education and cadre development. He was simply loved by the rank and file of the ANC and leaders of our Alliance partners.
Reminiscing of his phenomenal contribution to our liberation struggle, Walter Sisulu said of him in 1994: “Oliver Tambo’s remarkable work was not only as an organiser, but to mobilise and keep the people together…Oliver was a man of harmony, could keep thousands of people under his thumb – disciplined – yet he was still admired and loved.”
In an earlier February 1993 interview with Luli Callinicos, Walter Sisulu said, “I think he was the most loved leader. I know Luthuli was, but OR has got that exceptional gift of moulding people.”
OR Tambo enjoyed the trust and confidence of ANC President-General, Chief Albert Luthuli. Chief Luthuli who regarded freedom as the apex of human fulfilment, extolled Tambo’s simplicity, trustworthiness, work ethic, and incisive mind. He admired him as an eloquent debater and prolific speaker. In 1959, Chief Luthuli said, “the quality of our Deputy President, Oliver Tambo’s speech makes me very happy – even if I and others in the leadership of the ANC were to die, there are young men like Oliver Tambo who are now ready to take responsibility for the ANC.”
It is such a fitting honour to the memory of this unifier, great tactician and extraordinary strategist that in April 2019, the month of his passing away, the ANC, in line with conference resolutions to deepen political education has relaunched the Oliver Tambo School of Leadership to advance cadre development.
Oliver Tambo will always be evoked as the vanguard and epitome of unity. He perfectly understood that the ANC’s historical mission of destroying racial oppression could never be achieved by a divided, weak movement which carried the hopes of the majority of the suffering and despised masses.
And so, it remains a dangerous fallacy that a weaker, divided ANC is good for the people of South Africa. Even when the ANC enjoyed more than two thirds electoral support, it never pursued policies and programmes aimed at marginalising or excluding anyone. Today, the mushrooming of the populist, opportunistic, conservative, right wing, and ultra-nationalist parties requires that the ANC as leader of society should remain vigilant and guard against political opportunism that poses a threat to nation-building, social cohesion, and economic redress.
Schooled and oriented in the best traditions of the ANC, OR Tambo fought and defended the ANC’s vision and goal of achieving a united, non-racial, non-sexist and equal society. He perfectly grasped that the historic mission of the ANC was to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor. And a united ANC with a clear mandate from the electorate provides a guarantee to see this new non-racial and equal society thrive and prosper. To succeed, the ANC must continue to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the enemies of the National Democratic Revolution and continuously innovate itself to face the challenges of the moment.
Tambo’s biographer, Luli Callinicos, reminds us that OR Tambo was more than the glue that kept the liberation movement together. She challenges us to also pay attention to his key role in the major organisational innovations that enabled our glorious movement to advance its historic mission. Callinicos summarises these innovations that saw Tambo playing a central, decisive role:
OR’s role in consolidating organisational practices of consensus-making and collective leadership inside the ANC.
It was Tambo and his generation that broadened the constituency of the ANC by establishing a close working relationship with the South African Communist Party and sustained this bond in exile.
Under OR’s leadership, the ANC succeeded in establishing a strategy to isolate the oppressive, murderous, tyrannical apartheid regime.
Through his commitment to human rights and reconciliation, he laid the basis for our Constitution and ANC-led, peaceful, negotiated resolution to the struggle.
It was OR who did more to instil in a generation of young people a love of intellectual inquiry and professional excellence, to be placed in the service of a free South Africa.
Tambo was a chief political actor in the formation of the ANC Youth League that led to the adoption of the radical Programme of Action as ANC policy in 1949.
In 2019, our movement commemorates 70 years of the adoption of the radical Programme of Action as ANC policy. The Programme of Action which changed the cause of the ANC and South Africa was crafted by the ANCYL under Lembede as President, Tambo as Secretary, and Sisulu as Treasurer.
We pay tribute to our Youth League for continuing to be the disciplined, militant, and an authentic voice of the young people of our land. They have won the victory of removing experience as a requirement for employment in the public service. They continue to fight to ensure that dignified, quality fee-free higher education is implemented without fail.
Members of the ANCYL and the entire Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) continue to place their skills in the service of the ANC and our revolution. With more than six million registered first time young voters, we look to the ANCYL to win the confidence of this constituency and convert it to votes for the ANC. We have faith that in 2019 and beyond, the current Youth League will be inspired by OR Tambo and his generation to come up with more tactical and strategic innovations to improve the plight of the youth in our land.
Given the protracted history of national oppression and racial capitalism, the ANC regards the African majority and blacks in general as the main motive forces of the struggle. The ANC bears a responsibility to be biased in favour of the working poor and the rural masses since it is this group that stands to benefit most from socio-economic transformation.
The ANC remains the instrument of national liberation and a priceless heritage of the toiling, loyal masses of our land. Upon joining the ANC, members take an oath to defend and deepen unity in the ANC. This sacred vow enjoins members to place all their energies and skills at the disposal of the organisation and to contribute in “making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people”.
Twenty-five years since our democratic breakthrough, the ANC’s vanguard role in bringing a better life to all remains crucial. Despite the ANC’s success in changing the face of our nation, there are many more people that remain trapped in the clutches of degrading poverty and deprivation. The ANC is still their only hope to improve their lives. And loyal ANC cadres know that there can be no justification for allowing distractions or divisions to weaken the organisation to the point of betraying the people’s trust on whose behalf the ANC draws its legitimacy to exist.
Without unity, the ANC will be ineffective in discharging its responsibility to deliver economic emancipation and free the masses from the shackles of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Only a united ANC that speaks with one voice is capable of accelerating the restoration of the dignity of the impoverished masses. History would judge the ANC harshly if it paid lip service to the unity of the movement and the people.
On his return to South Africa after thirty years in exile, OR Tambo said to the ANC: “I have devotedly watched over the organisation all these years. I now hand it back to you, bigger, stronger – intact. Guard our precious movement.”
And at the re-launch of the ANC Youth League inside the country, OR Tambo said: “We have survived these many decades of ruthless persecution because not once did we lose sight of the necessity for defending our unity. We can win our freedom by fostering maximum unity amongst our people.”
The ANC has faced countless challenges since its birth in 1912. But given the pool and depth of leadership in the organisation and its traditions of democratic centralism, it has always been able to self- correct and renew itself. It did so at Morogoro for instance.
Since our last National Conference, the ANC has been demonstrating in word and in action its resolve to unite and renew itself. And the day the ANC fails to unite for any reason, that could spell the beginning of the end of our glorious movement. Tambo teaches us that the ANC must always rise above its challenges for the sake of the suffering masses that it leads.
The ANC held its 48th National Conference in July 1991 in Durban. In his opening address, Comrade President Tambo made the important remark: “We did not tear ourselves apart because of lack of progress at times. We were always ready to accept our mistakes and to correct them. Above all, we succeeded to foster and defend the unity of the ANC and the unity of our people in general. Even in bleak moments, we were never in doubt regarding the winning of freedom. We have never been in doubt that the people’s cause shall triumph.”
It was at the National Conference in Durban that Oliver Tambo easily handed Nelson Mandela the baton and the banner of the leadership of our organisation. The position of ANC Chairperson was created for the immortal, wise sage of the ANC, OR Tambo.
Nelson Mandela described OR Tambo as “the crystallisation and personification of what the ANC is and became under his leadership”.
Comrade OR was the ultimate embodiment of the ANC’s principles and values of non-racialism. He believed that it is the ANC’s, “responsibility to break down barriers of division and create a country where there will be neither whites nor blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.”
Having suffered the brutality of racial oppression and division, never in its history had the founders and generations of ANC stalwarts envisioned a national democratic society founded on the pillars of injustice and racial exclusion. The founding fathers and mothers of the ANC saw the unity of the ANC as sacrosanct and as a cornerstone upon which to unite all South Africans.
In its short, 25 years of governance, the ANC’s greatest gift and legacy to South Africa and the world remains its ongoing effort and unequalled commitment to creating common nationhood. Such is the vision of national democratic society that is under-girded by fairness and buttressed by economic redress in favour of the historically disadvantaged.
Nowhere in the world can we find a country with our similar history that has made such great strides in 25 years to transform society, unite all its people, and deliver social infrastructure than the ANC-led government has done. Apartheid architects, Nazis, fascists, and dictatorial regimes the world over can also beat themselves in the chest about their successes in building infrastructure, but none can claim the enduring legacy of the ANC since 1912 to unite all the people of South Africa across racial, ethnic, and religious lines.
The ANC itself is the first to accept that the pace of socio-economic transformation must be accelerated and that we need to double our efforts behind nation-building. As we do so, South Africans cannot be hoodwinked by self-serving political parties who are hell-bent to use every trick imaginable to protect ill-gotten white privilege and derail genuine socio-economic transformation and nation building.
Within an atmosphere characterised by resistance to economic transformation, ordinary South Africans are also discovering the fraud and criminality of the self-serving political parties and their defective protagonists who claim to be more radical and more caring about the plight of our impoverished masses. They are beginning to see these parties for what they are – ploys to serve narrow political and financial interests of their leaders. They will not be fooled by so-called liberal parties either who use African leaders to protect white privilege and oppose radical economic transformation. These are not entirely new developments in our history. Leaders like Oliver Tambo, Dr Yusuf Daidoo, Chris Hani, Dulcie September, Braam Fisher, Ruth First became enemies of the counter-revolution that opposed their steadfast pursuit of the ideal of a united South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
Oliver Tambo and his generation knew that the ANC could not achieve national unity without addressing the root causes of racial division which was the deliberate, systematic economic exclusion and land dispossession of the African people in particular and blacks in general. In the Freedom Charter, the multiracial Congress Alliance declared that in a free South Africa, “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people”.
In the Strategy and Tactics document adopted at the Morogoro Conference in 1969, the ANC said: “Our drive towards national emancipation is therefore in a very real way bound up with economic emancipation… Our people are deprived of their due in the country’s wealth; their skills have been suppressed and poverty and starvation have been their life experience. The correction of these centuries-old economic injustices lies at the very core of our national aspirations.”
When the ANC was getting ready to govern, it said in the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP):“No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty, without land, without tangible prospects for a better life. Attacking poverty and deprivation must therefore be the first priority of a democratic government.”
In December 2017, the ANC convened its 54th policy and elective conference under the theme, “Remember Tambo: Towards Unity, Renewal and Radical Socio-economic Transformation.” The ANC resolved to create a state-owned bank, nationalise the Reserve Bank, and amend the Constitution to speed up land reform. Conference agreed that land reform will not be arbitrary but will occur within the confines of the law and be based on the security of tenure, land restitution, and land redistribution.
In KwaZulu-Natal, we are hard at work to deracialise the economy and bring more black players into the mainstream economy. We are advancing localisation and labour-absorbing industrialisation. In partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, we are supporting the development and growth of black industrialists. Under the provincial model of radical economic transformation called Operation Vula, we are implementing ground-breaking programmes like Radical Agrarian Socio-Economic Transformation (RASET), Bulk Buying and Warehousing.
Through RASET, we seek to improve the value chain of food production and supply for underprivileged farmers and emerging agro-businesses. The programme also seeks to create an alternative value chain in order to bypass structural barriers associated with the existing value chain.
In partnership with Ithala Bank, we are providing much needed financial support for local African traders to be able to buy at competitive rates. We are cutting the middle man and selling directly to these small traders to ensure that we revitalise township and rural economies. In addition, we are enforcing business compliance and licensing throughout the province.
In the past five years, R2.6-billion was invested in agricultural development, targeting mainly emerging farmers. We supported 29 842 farmers and more than 12,500 farmers received training.
We have identified a number of set-asides for emerging black enterprises, women and youth-owned business. At the beginning of 2019, we allocated R70 million to the KZN Youth Fund to promote youth owned enterprises and support employment creation. In 2018, the province approved the Women Empowerment Strategy and established the Women Economic Council. Industrial Parks like Isithebe are being revitalised and we are attracting huge investments in our two Industrial Development Zones at Dube Trade Port and Richards Bay. There is growing confidence being demonstrated by local and foreign companies in the KZN economy which contributes more than 16% to the GDP and is only second in size after Gauteng. We are working hard to improve the performance of local government so that municipalities can become attractive centres for investment and engines of economic growth. To advance nation building, KZN launched the Social Cohesion and Moral Regeneration Council in July 2018.
While we have achieved much, a lot more still needs to be done to end the legacy of apartheid division and economic exclusion. The ANC of Oliver Tambo is equal to the task.
Paying tribute to his dear brother, trusted friend, and comrade-in-arms at the burial service, ANC President Nelson Mandela asserted in the style of traditional praise poetry that Tambo’s legacy will live forever beyond the grave. He began his oration thus:
A great giant who strode the globe like a colossus has fallen. A mind whose thoughts have opened the doors to our liberty has ceased to function. A heart whose dreams gave hope to the despised has for ever lost its beat. The gentle voice whose measured words of reason shook the thrones of tyrants has been silenced. Peoples of the world! Here lies before you the body of a man who is tied to me by an umbilical cord which cannot be broken.
We say he has departed. But can we allow him to depart while we live! Can we say Oliver Tambo is no more, while we walk this solid earth! Oliver lived not because he could breathe. He lived not because blood flowed through his veins. Oliver lived not because he did all the things that all of us as ordinary men and women do. Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people. He lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision…
I say that Oliver Tambo has not died, because the ideals for which he sacrificed his life can never die. I say that Oliver Tambo has not died because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish. I say he has not died because there are many of us who became part of his soul and therefore willingly entered into a conspiracy with him, for the victory of his cause.
While the ANC lives, Oliver Tambo cannot die!
On May 8, millions of South Africans will give a united ANC a decisive mandate to ensure that the people’s cause of economic freedom and national unity triumphs.
And the ANC remains indebted to its volunteers and cadres who day by day work tirelessly for the unity of the ANC and its protection as the irreplaceable inheritance of the masses. These are volunteers who know the meaning of the African proverb: “When brothers fight to death, a stranger inherits their property.”
When ANC President Ramaphosa is sworn-in and inaugurated as the President of the Republic on Africa Day on 25 May, our dedicated volunteers will remember not just OR Tambo’s call for unity, but also the eternal words of Dr Kwame Nkrumah who said at the inaugural Conference of the African Union: “So many blessings must flow from our unity; so many disasters must follow on our continued disunity.”
Victory is certain. Tambo’s cause will triumph. OR will not die while the ANC is united in action.
- Sihle Zikalala is KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson
OPINION: Sihle Zikalala