OR Tambo – A life of sac­ri­fice

As a young man tasked with en­sur­ing OR Tambo's safety, Kings­ley Makhubela got to see the great leader in ac­tion and learn valu­able les­sons from him. Makhubela shares some of those mem­o­ries with PSM.

Public Sector Manager - - Contents -

Kings­ley Makhubela, CEO of Brand South Africa, re­mem­bers the valu­able les­sons he learnt from OR Tambo

The late strug­gle stal­wart Oliver Regi­nald Tambo, who led the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle from ex­ile af­ter the ar­rest of most ANC lead­ers, was so com­mit­ted to the fight for free­dom that he barely rested.

So much so that he once an­noyed the party's top brass by sum­mon­ing them to a meet­ing on Christ­mas Day as they pre­pared to have lunch with their fam­i­lies.

This is one of many events that give a glimpse of how self­less and ded­i­cated Tambo was in the 1980s, lead­ing up to the his­toric ne­go­ti­a­tions that dis­man­tled apartheid.

Brand South Africa CEO Dr Kings­ley Makhubela, who was Tambo's head of se­cu­rity from 1986 un­til 1990, re­calls that the strug­gle icon was ded­i­cated to the mis­sion of free­ing apartheid pris­on­ers and achiev­ing free­dom for op­pressed South Africans.

Stand­ing in sol­i­dar­ity

Tambo felt that in sol­i­dar­ity with those who were jailed by the apartheid govern­ment – former Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, Ahmed Kathrada, Wal­ter Sisulu and many oth­ers, who could not see their fam­i­lies – he should sac­ri­fice his time with his own fam­ily, ded­i­cat­ing his days to the strug­gle.

“He felt that ev­ery mo­ment needed to be spent in the trenches, be it in Lusaka, Zam­bia, in our camps, mo­ti­vat­ing our sol­diers,” re­called Makhubela.

At the time,Tambo's fam­ily was based in London. So, in De­cem­ber 1987, on his way from Moscow,Tambo stopped in London for two days to see his fam­ily be­fore fly­ing back to Lusaka on Christ­mas eve.

When they ar­rived in Lusaka on Christ­mas Day, Makhubela said Tambo went to church and later called a meet­ing of the Pres­i­dent's Com­mit­tee – which was the equiv­a­lent of to­day's ANC Top Six.

The Pres­i­dent's Com­mit­tee was made up of Tambo as the Pres­i­dent, Al­fred Nzo as the Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, Thomas Nkobi as the Trea­sur­erGen­eral, Dan Tloome, Chair­per­son of the Com­mu­nist Party, Joe Slovo, Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral of the Com­mu­nist Party, and John Nkadi­meng, Head of the South African Congress of

Trade Unions.

“He said:‘Kings­ley, I want to con­vene a meet­ing of the Pres­i­dent's Com­mit­tee. We must meet in an hour's time'.”

Makhubela, who was in his midtwen­ties at the time, took it upon him­self to re­mind Tambo that it was Christ­mas Day and the men would be spend­ing their day with their loved ones.

“He looked at me, took off his glasses and said ‘sit down'. So I sat down and started ask­ing my­self – what have I done?”

‘Did you say to­day is Christ­mas Day?'Tambo asked.

‘Yes chief,' came the re­ply.

Tambo pressed fur­ther:‘So there is no strug­gle on Christ­mas Day?'

“I started feel­ing ter­ri­ble, and he said:‘Are you aware that peo­ple at home are hav­ing a black Christ­mas? They are not celebrating Christ­mas? And their lib­er­a­tors are celebrating Christ­mas. When they are ex­pect­ing us to lib­er­ate them, we are busy celebrating Christ­mas.

‘Are you aware there are peo­ple who are in prison now who can't even have a de­cent meal? And they ex­pect us to lib­er­ate them and we are not strug­gling be­cause it is Christ­mas Day?'

‘We have to pre­pare the Jan­uary 8 statement, send a mes­sage to

our peo­ple, send a mes­sage to our troops on what we need to do, how we need to in­ten­sify our strug­gle'.”

Makhubela said at that point, he felt em­bar­rassed by the in­sights that Tambo had shared with him, and went off to Nzo, who was at his son, Ike's house, for Christ­mas lunch.

When Nzo saw Makhubela driv­ing in, he im­me­di­ately said:“I thought you guys and the chief were hav­ing Christ­mas in London?”

And when he heard of the meet­ing he re­sponded: “No, no, no, the Pres­i­dent can't do this. He must re­lax, it is Christ­mas Day.”

Af­ter the ex­pla­na­tion Nzo was clearly not im­pressed as he had to pack his lunch and go to the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mit­tee meet­ing, which lasted well into the night.

Se­cur­ing the most wanted man

De­spite his age at the time, Makhubela found him­self en­trusted with pro­tect­ing the apartheid govern­ment's most wanted in­di­vid­ual in the 1980s, as Tambo led the armed strug­gle from ex­ile at a time that Rivo­nia tri­al­ists were in prison and all po­lit­i­cal par­ties were banned.

Hav­ing grown up in Mead­ow­lands in Soweto, Makhubela joined the ANC's un­der­ground struc­tures at the age of 17 be­fore tak­ing his ac­tivism to ex­ile in Luanda, An­gola, where he re­ceived mil­i­tary train­ing from 1980.

Along with other activists, Makhubela re­ceived spe­cialised train­ing in East Ger­many, which was cen­tred on counter-in­tel­li­gence and pro­tec­tion, among oth­ers.

Later, he was called up to work in Tambo's se­cu­rity de­tail un­der the com­mand of Shooter Mar­cus. When Mar­cus stepped down as the head of Tambo's unit, Makhubela took over and stayed on un­til Man­dela's re­lease from prison on 11 Fe­bru­ary 1990 and later or­gan­ised Man­dela's se­cu­rity.

“I got a call when I was in An­gola that I needed to re­port to Lusaka. When I ar­rived in Lusaka I was told that I was go­ing to join OR's unit. It was one of the most pres­ti­gious units to join be­cause to look af­ter OR was a re­spon­si­bil­ity given to the most trusted cadres.

“It was not ev­ery­one who was cho­sen for the task and I kept ask­ing my­self why is the ANC trust­ing me

with this ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­ity? Maybe they had done their own de­tailed re­search.”

Makhubela later be­came re­spon­si­ble for re­cruit­ing other peo­ple, who had to be scouted.

“Some­times we had to send peo­ple inside the coun­try to check the back­ground of in­di­vid­u­als who were to join OR's unit be­cause he was the num­ber one tar­get of the apartheid regime. Look­ing af­ter him, you needed peo­ple who were screened be­yond any doubts,” he ex­plained.

And just how dif­fi­cult was it to en­sure the safety of South Africa's most wanted? Makhubela said at the time, the pres­i­den­tial se­cu­rity de­tail worked with var­i­ous se­cu­rity struc­tures, in­clud­ing Zam­bian se­cu­rity.

The Pres­i­dent's se­cu­rity de­tail would de­cide on Tambo's move­ments, and de­pend­ing on a threat as­sess­ment, re­in­force­ments would be pulled in to se­cure meet­ing venues.

“There were in­stances where we would get in­for­ma­tion that there was a com­mando unit look­ing for OR, so we would move him from one point to the other. There was a core team that would know where OR was.

“We had in­stances where even the lead­er­ship of the ANC would not know where OR was and only those in his in­ner cir­cle would know his where­abouts. There was a lot of trust and re­spon­si­bil­ity placed on us – re­mem­ber some of us were only 25 years old.

“It was only later on, when one re­flected on it that I re­alised that had any­thing hap­pened to OR, I would have been lynched. It's ac­tu­ally fright­en­ing to think about now,” he said.

This was an era when other lead­ers in

ex­ile were as­sas­si­nated, for ex­am­ple an­ti­a­partheid ac­tivist Joe Gqabi in 1981, who re­port­edly died at the hands of the apartheid hit-squad af­ter be­ing shot 19 times while re­vers­ing out of his drive­way in Harare.

Makhubela said at the time,Tambo was al­ways sur­rounded by a unit of six closely-knit se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

“We would do every­thing, in­clud­ing en­sur­ing that he eats, that he takes his med­i­ca­tion, and in our team we had peo­ple who were good cooks. We had an old man called Mshengu … who was a very close con­fi­dant of OR and he knew what OR liked to eat. He used to love ox­tail, that was his favourite meal,” he said.

Tambo the lis­tener

He re­called that one of OR's strong­est qual­i­ties was his abil­ity to lis­ten, he hardly ever in­ter­jected when some­one else was talk­ing.

“With OR, your se­nior­ity in the or­gan­i­sa­tion did not mat­ter. He would sit and lis­ten. When we got to the camps with him, OR would take a walk when sol­diers were tak­ing a break and would sur­prise them in the bush. He would sit down and ask them about their ideas – ‘what is your view about the armed strug­gle? Why do you think we are not hit­ting enough tar­gets?'

“And he lis­tened to those peo­ple,” Makhubela said.

Tambo would re­flect on the in­sights from oth­ers be­fore re­spond­ing to them, es­pe­cially those who, at the time, felt like re­turn­ing to South Africa to kill white peo­ple, he re­called.

Makhubela be­lieves Tambo's

wis­dom was per­haps the rea­son why a civil war was averted in South Africa.

“OR would take time to speak to the com­mis­sariat [a unit charged with ed­u­cat­ing South Africans about who the en­emy is] and I think that was re­ally help­ful be­cause it pre­vented an eth­nic con­flict – killing peo­ple be­cause of the colour of their skin.

“That is why the moral cause of the ANC for many years was be­yond re­proach, no one would ques­tion who the en­emy was.That is why the strug­gle was pop­u­larly sup­ported by most of the white peo­ple across Europe be­cause they be­lieved in the just­ness of the strug­gle. We never killed peo­ple be­cause of the colour of their skin – that was the dis­tinc­tion be­tween us and the en­emy,” he said.

A love for ed­u­ca­tion

Makhubela said he would for­ever be thank­ful to Tambo, who was a Maths and Sci­ence teacher, for urg­ing him and the peo­ple around him to pur­sue an ed­u­ca­tion af­ter the armed strug­gle.

Makhubela has a Mas­ter's de­gree in Diplo­matic Stud­ies and a PhD in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence.

“OR told us his stories about go­ing to school and he was al­ways keen for all of us in the unit to im­prove our ed­u­ca­tional skills. He kept em­pha­sis­ing that. Of course we were mil­i­tant and wanted to lib­er­ate the coun­try, but he em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion and that is why, later in life, I took it upon my­self to im­prove my ed­u­ca­tional skills.

“When I got my doc­tor­ate, in my heart I knew I was ded­i­cat­ing this to him be­cause I knew he would have been very proud,” he said.

Af­ter work­ing in Tambo's se­cu­rity de­tail, Makhubela worked for Madiba for more than a year and later went to New York to work for the ANC mis­sion at the United Na­tions at a time when South African po­lit­i­cal par­ties were locked in ne­go­ti­a­tions to dis­man­tle apartheid.

Af­ter cast­ing his vote in the first demo­cratic elec­tion from New York, he re­turned to his coun­try of birth in 1994 to join the then Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs as the Chief of State Vis­its, where he han­dled all of Madiba's state vis­its.

In 1996, Makhubela was de­ployed to Por­tu­gal as an am­bas­sador un­til 2001. He was then posted to Nairobi as am­bas­sador un­til 2005 be­fore re­turn­ing to the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs as a Chief Di­rec­tor re­spon­si­ble for con­flict ar­eas.

In 2007, Makhubela was ap­pointed Chief of State Pro­to­col and in 2010, he was ap­pointed Direc­torGen­eral of the Depart­ment of Tourism. He joined Brand South Africa in 2015.

Dr Kings­ley Makhubela got to wit­ness the great­ness of OR Tambo first hand while serv­ing as his head of se­cu­rity.

OR Tambo preached about the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion to his fel­low com­rades.

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