Struggle stalwart Amina Cachalia reveals how Adelaide Tambo the late wife of former ANC president Oliver Tambo - used to solicit cash and credit cards to sustain her lavish lifestyle, “embarrassing and reckless behaviour” that incensed ruling party leaders Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.
In her autobiography, When Hope and History Rhyme, she tells how Adelaide called her, demanding a credit card, apparently for a shopping spree in London.
“Amina, I need your credit card details now. Oliver and I are at the airport about to board a plane to London, but the cheque we issued for this purpose has not been cleared, it appears. So you give me your credit card details so that we can pay for our flights,’” Cachalia writes.
“(Adelaide) informed me that the cheque was for R30 000, if I remember correctly.”
Cachalia says that she just “did not have thousands more in my account”, whereupon Tambo asked for the credit card details of Cachalia’s husband, Yusuf.
However, he did not have a credit card, Cachalia told Adelaide.
The telephone then apparently rang again, with a call from Adelaide sounding “annoyed” and asking Cachalia to give her the number of her lawyer, George Bizos.
“I obliged and wished her luck and put down the phone. Minutes later, Adelaide called again. This time she demanded (Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer) Ismail Ayob’s number. Fortunately, I could oblige once more,” Cachalia writes.
“Here was the wife of the leader of the ANC demanding credit cards from me. They were apparently going to London on a shopping spree, I learned later. What a fiasco.”
She claims that, after telling Sisulu about the “embarrassing situation”, Mandela arrived at her house some days later.
“Nelson told me he would put a stop to Adelaide’s antics. This was not the first time she had brought Oliver into disrepute. (Oliver) was a sick man and should be resting instead of travelling,” she writes.
“Nelson also informed me that he had discussed Adelaide Tambo’s reckless behaviour with Walter and others, and it was decided to ask (the late) Albertina Sisulu to head a small group of people to discuss the issue with Adelaide and put a stop to her demands for money.
“He told me I was not the only victim. The ANC had been footing a few bills for her. He updated me on the occasion when she held a huge party for her friend Kenneth Kaunda. It was a lavish affair. Adelaide asked the ANC to foot the bill. He (Mandela) said a stop had to be put to this sort of behaviour.”
Tselane Tambo, daughter of Adelaide and Oliver Tambo, dismissed Cachalia’s story as simply “her account”.
“What is there to say - that my mother was a scammer? Those who choose to believe (Cachalia) will, and those who knew my mother will know better,” Tselane told The Sunday Independent.
But Adelaide Tambo is not the only object of Cachalia’s unflinching assessment of her comrades, or “colleagues”, as she repeatedly refers to them.
She also tells of a time in the 1980s when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela “wanted to buy a car for herself but did not have the money”.
“(Former Soweto medical doctor and activist) Nthato Motlana asked Yusuf (Cachalia) to contribute towards buying an Audi for her. When Yusuf suggested buying a cheaper make of car, Nthato laughingly said we were getting away cheaply enough as it was.
“Winnie wanted a more expensive vehicle. Yusuf then donated what he was asked for, but when he was later asked to pay for the licence, he refused. It caused Winnie to become enraged.”
She writes that Madikizela-Mandela’s dedication to the Struggle “never faded, but in private matters she moved on with her life”.
“He would not show it, but after his release, Nelson was a lonely man… He told me that they shared a bed, but had no physical contact. She would wait every night until he was sound asleep before she came into the room and quietly slipped into bed,” she wrote.
Madikizela-Mandela could not be reached for comment.
On Graça Machel, Cachalia reveals Madiba’s wife’s fights with the ANC Women’s League, and how Mandela cheated on her soon after marrying her.
Cachalia also recalls a women’s league fund-raising function, for which Madiba agreed to donate some of his signature shirts.
“It sounded perfect for the auction, until two days later when (Struggle stalwart) Sophie (de Bruyn) received a call from Machel telling her that the league could not have any of Madiba’s shirts because if he kept on dishing them out he would not have any left for his family,” she writes.
Machel declined to comment.
Cachalia later also alleges that Madiba “did not have the guts” to tell her of his impending marriage to Machel in 1998, later writing of a visit he paid to her Killarney flat after the wedding.
“He sat me down on the two-seater couch in the living room and kissed me passionately. Running his fingers through my hair, he said: ‘Do you know that you are an exceptionally beautiful, vivacious and enticing young lady?’” she writes.
“I replied gently: ‘I’m not a young lady; I am a middle-aged woman.’”
On another occasion, Mandela visited her for dinner.
“It was late in the afternoon on a Thursday. I rested for a while, bathed, and then prepared a lovely meal fit for King Nelson,” she writes.
When he arrived, “he looked tired and said he would like to lie down for a while”.
“That night Nelson declared his love for me in no uncertain terms. I resisted, reminding him of his marriage, and the fact that, while I may have been moved to consider his overtures positively, his marriage to Graça prevented me from doing so,” she writes. “I was free, he was not.”
In another part, she writes that Mandela expressed “his love or feelings in a rather matter-of-fact fashion”, but she “could not return any of his rigid gestures of love”.
“I was not in love with Nelson. I loved him dearly and yet I could not bring myself to want him as I did Yusuf, even in our old age,” she wrote.
Sello Hatang, the newly appointed CEO of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, said they were given a copy of the manuscript “as a courtesy, more than anything” before publication, but that the foundation had not endorsed Cachalia’s book.
“For (the foundation), even if we had any concerns, it’s actually about their relationship, and if a person wants to write, it’s not our place to say the thing was wrong,” Hatang said.
He said the foundation and memory centre did not have any archival evidence to prove the allegations of Madiba’s romantic overtures and proposal to Cachalia.
Cachalia also reveals details of a lunch she and Helen Suzman had with Madiba after one of his overseas trips, during which he had told them “how he got what he wanted from such visits”.
“He said (the people he was visiting) were only prepared to give him a million dollars.
“He refused and requested an additional million dollars for his wife’s foundation. He got what he wanted and came back to South Africa,” she wrote.
“We (Cachalia and Suzman) were appalled at his method of obtaining funds, with Helen remarking to him that he was shameless.”
Her friendship with Madiba also led her to ask him to arrange a diplomatic appointment for her, resulting in a discussion with |then Foreign Affairs minister Alfred Nzo, who demanded her CV.
“I told Nzo that probably, like me, he had no CV - the struggle was our CV. I also reminded him of the years that Yusuf (Cachalia) had groomed him when Alfred was still wet behind the ears.” - Sunday Independent