Cel­e­brat­ing an icon

Vuk'uzenzele - - Heritage - Chris Bath­embu

west of Mbizana in the East­ern Cape, be­low the ma­jes­tic Ngele Moun­tains that stretch all the way to KwaZulu-Natal, is the peace­ful vil­lage of Nkan­tolo where Oliver Regi­nald Tambo was born.

Like many vil­lages, its houses are made of mud, grass and stones and vir­tu­ally ev­ery sec­ond dwelling has a ron­davel or two.

The Oliver Tambo Gar­den of Re­mem­brance is sit­u­ated near a hill over­look­ing the vil­lage. The site was cho­sen for one rea­son: it was the home where Tambo was born on 27 Oc­to­ber 1917, and where he used to look af­ter the fam­ily cat­tle and other live­stock.

In 1946, the Tambo fam­ily had to move to an­other site when the old houses in the fam­ily com­pound col­lapsed. Tambo used a nearby one-bed­room flat when­ever he vis­ited his home. This is still stand­ing af­ter un­der­go­ing re­fur­bish­ments re­cently.

On the other side of the Gar­den of Re­mem­brance, a few kilo­me­tres from the Tambo homestead, is the road lead­ing to what was Mb­hob­heni School, one of the first schools he at­tended. But the school is long since gone.

Tambo went into ex­ile in 1960. He led the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) for 30 years, through its dark­est days, be­com­ing its long­est-serv­ing leader un­til its un­ban­ning in 1990. Tambo’s abil­ity to keep the ANC to­gether in Lon­don, and later in Lusaka, is prob­a­bly the rea­son he is known in­ter­na­tion­ally.

But to the vil­lage of Nkan­tolo and to his re­main­ing fam­ily mem­bers there, he was and re­mains more than just a hero and a lib­er­a­tion stal­wart. To them, he was a son, fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and lo­cal hero. Tambo would have been 100-years-old this year. He died in April 1993, a year be­fore South Africa held its first demo­cratic elec­tions.

It’s per­haps for this rea­son that on his cen­te­nary, gov­ern­ment de­clared 2017 as “The year of OR Tambo: cel­e­brat­ing our lib­er­a­tion her­itage”. A cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tion will take place on 27 Oc­to­ber. A se­ries of aware­ness cre­ation pro­grammes, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tional and cel­e­bra­tory ac­tiv­i­ties, will take place across the coun­try in the build-up to this day. There­after, sev­eral legacy projects will be de­liv­ered to Mbizana to ben­e­fit the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Tambo’s nephew Mzuk­isi Tambo took to the wooden church where Tambo at­tended school. The Ludeke Methodist church is sit­u­ated about 15 km from the Tambo homestead and is re­garded as an his­toric build­ing by the lo­cals be­cause Nel­son and Win­nie Man­dela got mar­ried there.

“It is our pride, this church, not only be­cause two of South Africa’s icons be­gan their mar­ried life here, but be­cause it also served as a home for many peo­ple dur­ing those dark days. It still is a cen­tre of home for the com­mu­nity,” said lo­cal elder Lungiswa Pepeta, who grew up in the vil­lage.

Tambo ini­tially wanted to study medicine, but opted in­stead to study the sciences at the Col­lege of Fort Hare (now Fort Hare Univer­sity). It was here that he would meet his life­long friend and com­rade Nel­son Man­dela. In 1942, he was unan­i­mously elected chair­per­son of the Stu­dents' Com­mit­tee of his res­i­dence, Beda Hall. Af­ter three years, Tambo grad­u­ated with a BSc de­gree in math­e­mat­ics and physics. He then en­rolled for a di­ploma in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

He was ex­pelled from Fort Hare due to his po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties on cam­pus and later set off for Jo­han­nes­burg where he met Wal­ter Sisulu.

Pro­fes­sor Lu­vuyo Wot­shela, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Her­itage and Cul­tural Stud­ies Cen­tre at Fort Hare, says that although the univer­sity may not have been Tambo’s launch pad for his rad­i­cal­ism, the univer­sity did shape his think­ing and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism.

“It was at this univer­sity where he was ex­posed to dif­fer­ent young lead­ers from across the con­ti­nent who were think­ing the same as him. It was also at Fort Hare where Tambo be­gan to or­gan­ise stu­dent marches and this re­ally in­flu­enced his fu­ture, which was join­ing the ANC Youth League.

“He was a very young man when he ar­rived at Fort Hare, full of ideas, and rubbed shoul­ders with key young peo­ple who in­flu­enced him and shaped him for what would later be his role in the ANC and the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion,” said Wot­shela.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma re­cently launched the Mbizana Ru­ral En­ter­prise Devel­op­ment Hub in hon­our of Tambo’s legacy. The hub was opened to stim­u­late growth through agri­cul­ture and agro-pro­cess­ing, and thus the lo­cal economy.

Septem­ber is Her­itage Month, with cel­e­bra­tions tak­ing place in mu­se­ums, gal­leries, li­braries and com­mu­nity art cen­tres, to high­light the im­por­tance of the coun­try’s lib­er­a­tion her­itage. South Africans will be en­cour­aged to hold com­mu­nity di­a­logues in her­itage in­sti­tu­tions.

In early Septem­ber Tan­za­nia and South Africa worked to­gether to cre­ate an in­te­grated im­ple­men­ta­tion plan for re­gional lib­er­a­tion her­itage. The aim is to de­velop a Re­sis­tance and Lib­er­a­tion Her­itage Route, in­cor­po­rat­ing South African sites with other south­ern African lib­er­a­tion sites.

“It was at this univer­sity where he was ex­posed to dif­fer­ent young lead­ers from across the con­ti­nent who were think­ing the same as him…”

The OR

Tambo Gar­den of Re­mem­ber­ance in Nkan­tolo vil­lage out­side Mbizana.

A flat that Oliver Tambo used when­ever he was at home.

A statue of Oliver Tambo, pres­i­dent of the ANC from 1967 to 1991, is one of the first at the Na­tional Her­itage Monument.

Ludeke Methodist Church near Mbizana. The church served as a home for many dur­ing apartheid.

The class where Oliver Tambo did his standard six at Ludeke Methodist Church near Mbizana.

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