ANC has failed to honour Tambo’s legacy

Oliver Tambo proved himself to be the most selfless leader of Mandela’s generation, says the writer. Picture: ANA Archives

Oliver Tambo proved himself to be the most selfless leader of Mandela’s generation, says the writer. Picture: ANA Archives

Published May 29, 2023


Thembile Ndabeni

Cape Town - Is this the best way the ANC can honour Oliver Reginald Tambo for all the sacrifices he made for 30 years in exile?

If that is so, it is the funniest way of honouring a person and needs to go in Guinness World Records. This is a leader of the ANC who missed a lot in life. He was the first and only president of the ANC in exile as the president. If there is anyone who says there is a president of the ANC who worked more than Tambo, I am prepared to listen.

He made the ANC respected worldwide and was allowed to address gatherings where the racist apartheid regime was not.

It was the ANC under his leadership that popularised the lesser-known Nelson Mandela, who was in prison.

Few know that he was a science student and teacher and that some of his respected comrades even within the confines of the ANC were his students, like Andrew Mlangeni.

His political activism dates to the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). He was one of the founders. That was the youth league that radicalised the ANC. That was manifested through the drafting of the 1949 Programme of Action.

He later formed a law firm with Mandela. He should have been nicknamed “Event” (Siganeko) because his life was preceded by events, stranger than normal.

He was expelled from Fort Hare University during a student strike in 1942. In December 1956, only a fortnight after Bishop Ambrose Reeves had accepted him as a candidate for ordination for priesthood, he was arrested and charged with treason.

When Chief Albert Luthuli was still restricted to his then Natal home, he was elected to fill in the gap, but the following year he was served with new bans.

He suffered a stroke on the eve of the Organisation of African Unity’s adoption of the Harare Declaration in 1989. The severity meant that he had to undergo extensive medical treatment. That was also shortly before the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Mandela and other political prisoners.

He died a year before what he fought for, for almost 30 years, was realised.

In her contribution in the book The Miracle of a Freed Nation, Charlene Smith (1994:100) quoted the ANCYL appealing to young people to “pay tribute to this greatest of our leaders by emulating his outstanding attributes – humility, discipline and selflessness”.

Well said, but are they doing that? If the elders, some of whom knew him in person, were not emulating them, how much more with the youth?

Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of the death of the longest-serving ANC president. His commitment and contribution to the Struggle remains unquestionable. It is a shame what the ANC is doing after he carried it on his shoulders for 30 years.

He proved himself to be the most selfless leader of Mandela’s generation.

Members of his family have not benefited from the Struggle like the Sisulus and others after such a supreme sacrifice at the expense of his family.

Instead, the ANC is undermining his sacrifices. They should be ashamed. Sometimes ordinary and poor people are far better than the educated, high-up people and politicians.

To his family after the supreme sacrifice of their father, history is there for recording purposes, and as one of the best judges ever. To some of us, the death of one of his “political sons”, Martin Thembisile “Chris” Hani, had an impact on his ailing life.

To Harry Gwala as long as he was still alive OR was the president of the ANC. OR and Gwala were the only two ANC veteran liberation fighters really affectionately referred to in a special way, “Mdala”. There will never be another veteran political leader referred to as “Mdala”.

Tambo became the ANC president in 1960, and retained the position until 1991. Chief Albert Luthuli was unable to carry out his functions in 1960 after the banning of many political organisations.

Tambo made history by being the longest-serving president of the ANC. Even Mandela did not just acknowledge, but respected him.

Mandela said Tambo was more than a brother to him.

He was not perfect but did his best in overseeing the scattered ANC in exile, its related structures inside South Africa and the masses.

Ndabeni is a former history tutor at UWC and a former teacher at Bulumko Senior Secondary School in Khayelitsha.

Cape Times