In the early hours of April 23, 1993, Oliver Tambo suffered a massive, fatal stroke. His death came a mere two weeks after the murder of one of his most talented apprentices, Chris Hani.
The shock of the assassination, as well as the very real threat of national mayhem narrowly averted, may well have hastened his own demise.
Precisely a year after his death, the South African nation went to the polls in the first-ever democratic elections. The ANC won an overwhelming victory. The people of South Africa had cast their vote of confidence in the party and in the legacy that its leaders had imprinted on its vision. This was the moment for which Tambo willingly gave his life. We dare not fail this moment; neither do we have an option to defer the dream of our people.
Today, Sunday, October 8, 2017, the year of celebrations of the life and times of one of the most venerated, humble and indefatigable leaders of the ANC and indeed the struggle for liberation, former ANC president, comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo will come to an end.
This period will also coincide with a new beginning, a rebirth, and usher in a new dawn in the lives of the greater majority of South Africans – it will be the elective conference of the ANC to be held in December.
I want to reflect on what the call of this paragon of exceptional virtue meant for all of us in the ANC when he pleaded “guard our precious movement”.
What exactly did Comrade OR mean when he so unassumingly pleaded that we must never forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over?
Who will deny that the glorious history of the liberation struggle, and that of the ANC, has occasioned upon us formidable giants, compatriots and stalwarts. Who will dispute that one, in particular, among the many who will forever stand out like a towering colossus is Oliver Reginald Tambo – an outstanding human being and servant of the people.
Humility, tenacity and resilience are just some of the words I could use to describe Tambo. Comrade OR, as we fondly called him, was consistent in demonstrating brilliance in many unique ways. He was as skilled at connecting facts and ideas as he was at connecting people. Tambo’s mind was always quietly churning, contemplating ideas, strategies and tactics with facts and figures.
He was distinctive for his ability to deal with both the concrete and the abstract – with rare levels of precision. Tambo would grapple and master the specific with ease, while equally comprehending the general and the whole with rare giftedness.
Yet, the challenge for all of us today, in 2017, is this – it is now up to us to ensure that Tambo’s greatness will be measured by what he left within us to grow, develop and execute and whether he left it within us to think, to act and to emerge with renewed spirit, vim and vigour to take forward the baton after the ANC 2017 elective conference.
Tambo’s words beseeched of us to guard this precious movement, the ANC. Yes, we miss him in this beautiful place called Mzansi to which Tambo delivered us free. Yes, we wish to dance to Tambo’s life and sing his praises forever. But more than this, Tambo prepared us, did he not?
Utambo usehlatini bafana
This song reminds us: “Where is Tambo? Tambo is in the forest. What is he doing there? He is training soldiers.”
And, yes, we are those soldiers, those cadres whose task is not done yet. If Tambo were to wake up from his eternal sleep, if for a moment, he would decry the present state of affairs in the ANC. Whither our moral compass that guided us in the worst of times?
Yet, there are critical lessons that must be learnt, especially from the vantage point of the life of one as great as Comrade OR.
On June 25, 1985, in Lusaka, Oliver Tambo uttered these words: “Those of us who are the true liberators should not fight among ourselves. Let us not allow the enemy’s dirty tricks to succeed in getting us to fight one another.”
These extraordinary words are, of course, as relevant today as when they were first uttered in 1985. The ANC must rise up, again and show true, responsive, accountable and responsible leadership.
We must honour the memory of Comrade OR and all those who sacrificed their lives for the ANC and for our country. I would underline the importance of the exercise of leadership at these moments of revolutionary change.
What might such revolutionary renewal entail?
- Let us go back to an unwavering commitment to
serve all the people with no expectation of any personal benefit or patronage.
- Let us go back and agree never to betray the highest moral standards which we know and have lived and which the masses that we represent and lead view as sacrosanct.
- Let us place all our energies and efforts in pursuit of the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution – these have all recently been reaffirmed at the ANC national executive committee meeting and are contained in the policy papers – they are formidable and attainable.
- Let us again ensure that an ANC branch is our nucleus. Selfless dedication and service remains at the heart of who we are and what we represent as the ANC.
Again it was at the 1991 ANC national conference that Comrade OR uttered these prescient words: “We have devotedly watched over the organisation all these years. We now hand it back to you bigger, stronger and intact.Guard our precious movement.”
My call is for us to return unity to our movement – it is about responsive, accountable and responsible leadership. Leadership sits at the sharp edge to ensure the ANC lives and the ANC leads.
Let us instil hope in all our people to ensure the National Development Plan Vision 2030 brings prosperity, employment and equality. Allow me to draw attention to the words Tata Madiba spoke as he said farewell to his lifelong comrade, Oliver Tambo. This must serve as a wake-up call, because it contains a covenant, a promise and hope. It reads:
“Go well, my brother and farewell, dear friend.
As you instructed, we will bring peace to our tormented land.
As you directed, we will bring freedom to the oppressed and liberation to the oppressor.
As you strived, we will restore the dignity of the dehumanised.
As you commanded, we will defend the option of a peaceful resolution of our problems.
As you prayed, we will respond to the cries of the wretched of the Earth.
As you loved them, we will, always, stretch out a hand of endearment to those who are your flesh and blood.
In all this, we will not fail you.”
Let us all commit to reignite our illustrious movement. The ANC belongs to all of us. Let us commit again and agree that we will unite, restore and renew the glorious movement to which we belong. Let us work to ensure that the ANC lives and the ANC leads.
Comrade OR, we will not fail you. As I salute you and bid you farewell, yet not forever – for your horizons have no end in serving our lives – we solemnly declare and promise to guard this precious movement and to build upon and grow on your unsurpassed contribution.
As we stand on the threshold of welcoming the dawn of a new day in the history of the ANC, we have it in our power to remake South Africa into what you, Comrade OR, wanted it to be: free, just, prosperous, at peace with itself and with the world. And so it
* Jeff Radebe is Minister in the Presidency. He is one of several senior ANC leaders vying to replace President Jacob Zuma in the ANC’s elective conference in December.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.