Celebrating a visionary leader
This year South Africa celebrates the centenary of one of the country’s greatest leaders, OR Tambo
Across the country, people will talk about, remember and marvel at the life of one of South Africa's greatest leaders this month. October is a special month in South Africa as it provides the opportunity for South Africans to reflect on the life and times of the late Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo, a leader who still commands respect the world over.
The year 2017 marks the centenary celebration of Tambo's birth. He played an important role in liberating South Africa and was one of the founding fathers of our constitutional democracy.
Government declared 2017 “The year of OR Tambo: Celebrating our liberation heritage”. A number of events will take place this month to commemorate the legacy and centenary of Tambo.
He served as president of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1969 to 1991, making him the longest-serving president of the party. He also enjoyed over 50 years of political activism in the ANC.
A leader is born
Tambo was born on 27 October 1917, as Kaizana Tambo, in Nkantolo village in the Eastern Cape. His rural upbringing groomed him to become a hard worker with strong moral standards and values.
According to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, he changed the name Kaizana to Oliver after a teacher asked him on his first day of school to come to school with a new English name.
“His parents chose Oliver.This and a host of encounters with some of his first teachers' strict nature made him dread school. A chance meeting with an eloquent young man, who was a member of the debating society in a different school, changed his attitude towards education and ignited a love for discussion and debate,” says the Foundation.
After school,Tambo went to university. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Maths and Science from Fort Hare University. His life as an activist started at the university.
In 1942, while studying towards his postgraduate qualification in education, he was expelled from the university for participating in a student strike.When his former teacher heard of his expulsion he was offered a job as a Maths and Science teacher at St. Peter's College.
During his time as a teacher in Johannesburg, Tambo was an active member of the ANC. He formed the Youth League and became its first national secretary in 1944.
Four years later, he became president of the Transvaal ANCYL and national vice-president of the organisation in 1949. He was also elected as a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC.
In 1951,Tambo made history when he formed the first black law partnership with his great friend, Madiba.
Tambo led the ANC through challenging times. He was the longest-serving leader and took the cause to many countries.
During his time abroad he was instrumental in establishing ANC missions in at least 27 countries by 1990.“He helped lobby support for the ANC and raised the international reputation of the ANC to one of great prestige,” says the Foundation.
After spending 30 years in exile,Tambo and his family returned home. Upon his return he spoke at the first ANC meeting in South Africa since it's unbanning. He used the occasion to pass on the leadership baton to Mandela, who was elected as the National Chairperson of the ANC.
On 24 April 1993 Tambo died after a stroke.
Writer: Ongezwa Mogotsi Images courtesy of © Tambo Family Album / Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation