Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma on Thursday described anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Oliver Reginald Tambo as "the glue" that held together the liberation movement and the African National Congress (ANC) during the hard period of being exiled by the apartheid government.
"[Former ANC] President Tambo became the glue that held the many facets of the ANC together during that difficult period. He became a capable pastor to all the strands of the ANC broad church," Zuma said.
"He was able to do this because of his character, amongst other, that of being a disciplined and highly principled leader. He knew that South Africa and its people did not owe him anything; hence he served his people with love and selflessness. Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people."
Zuma was speaking at the unveiling of the OR Tambo statue at OR Tambo International Airport. Tambo served as ANC president from 1967 to 1991. He died at the age of 75 in Johannesburg on April 24, 1993.
The statue unveiling ceremony forms part of the O.R. Tambo centenary celebrations that are being held across the country under the theme: "Life and Legacy of OR Tambo".
Zuma also lauded Tambo's internationalist perspective which enabled the ANC to sharpen the international pillar of the struggle.
"The international campaign to release [late former] President [Nelson] Mandela and other political prisoners, the campaign for sanctions against apartheid South Africa and the creation of an understanding of South Africa under apartheid, were all skillfully executed under his leadership," Zuma said.
"His skilful diplomatic endeavours also led to the recognition of the ANC by the Organisation for African Unity and the United Nations.
"The declaration of apartheid as a crime against humanity was due to his tireless leadership of the international pillar of our struggle. From these small beginnings, under his stewardship, the ANC acquired missions in a total of 27 countries by 1990."
Meanwhile, the ANC welcomed the tribute paid to Tambo through the unveiling of his statue, saying that he was a champion of international solidarity between the revolutionary movements of the developing world and played an instrumental role in mobilising the international community against the apartheid regime.