OR Tambo: Re­mem­ber­ing an icon

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Thou­sands of South Africans cel­e­brated the cen­te­nary of strug­gle icon OR Tambo

Nom­a­homba Nz­ima (78) was only 17 years old when Oliver Tambo mar­ried his wife Ade­laide. Although she was a young girl at the time, Nz­ima can­not for­get the “hand­some and charis­matic” Tambo and his bright smile on his wed­ding day in 1956.

“He was very hand­some, spoke well and was friendly to every­one, I can never for­get the day of his wed­ding to his equally beau­ti­ful wife,” she said.

“He had this unas­sum­ing look and was al­ways hum­ble, there was no doubt he would one day be lead­ing be­cause he pos­sessed lead­er­ship qual­i­ties,” said Nz­ima, who has re­tired to Nkan­tolo af­ter years in Jo­han­nes­burg.

She was one of more than 10 000 peo­ple who braved the cold weather to gather at Tambo's birth place to hon­our South Africa's strug­gle icon in the year he would have turned 100.

A well-re­spected leader

Although Tambo did not live long enough to wit­ness South Africa's first demo­cratic elec­tions in 1994, his legacy lives on and the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions at his

home vil­lage of Nkan­tolo, Eastern Cape, proved that he still wields im­mense re­spect among South Africans.

Govern­ment has de­voted 2017 to the cel­e­bra­tion of Tambo's life and the work of the man af­ter whom the con­ti­nent's big­gest and busiest air­port is named.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mmamoloko Kubay­iNgubane, who was one of many Cabi­net Min­is­ters who at­tended the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tion, de­scribed Tambo as a leader who kept the ANC to­gether when the party was at its weak­est.

“With­out him and his abil­ity to main­tain the strug­gle and keep the lib­er­a­tion move­ment to­gether, we would prob­a­bly never have ar­rived where we are today. His con­tri­bu­tion is some­thing all of us need to cher­ish and cel­e­brate,” said Min­is­ter Kubayi-Ngubane.

Long-time com­rade and for­mer Min­is­ter Pallo Jor­dan de­scribed Tambo as a dis­ci­plined leader who re­mained hum­ble through­out his life.

“He re­mained hum­ble in ev­ery­thing he did and he showed this at an early age in his life and kept at it through­out,” Jor­dan said.

Although the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple who packed a large white mar­quee, where the cel­e­bra­tions were held in Nkan­tolo, never knew Tambo per­son­ally, his well-doc­u­mented con­tri­bu­tion to South Africa's strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion was enough for them to take the time to cel­e­brate the icon's birth­day.

As the long­est serv­ing leader of the African Na­tional Congress (ANC),Tambo's re­silience and con­tri­bu­tion to the lib­er­a­tion move­ment is un­matched.

OR, as Tambo was fondly known, com­manded re­spect in­ter­na­tion­ally and sev­eral African coun­tries opened their doors to ANC com­rades due to his in­flu­ence and lead­er­ship.

His long-time friend and com­rade, the late for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, re­garded him as a spir­i­tual brother.Tambo was a de­voted Chris­tian, who was forced to aban­don his love for preach­ing and teach­ing, to en­gage in a strug­gle to free South Africa from the chains of an op­pres­sive sys­tem. Man­dela and Tambo forged a last­ing friend­ship in and out­side pol­i­tics and had great re­spect for each other as the first black lawyers to open a law firm in Jo­han­nes­burg.

A re­mark­able hu­man be­ing

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, who spoke at the cen­te­nary event in Nkan­tolo, de­scribed Tambo as a re­mark­able hu­man be­ing, con­sum­mate free­dom fighter and an out­stand­ing leader.

“Com­rade Tambo un­der­took this enor­mous re­spon­si­bil­ity with the strength of an ele­phant, ra­zor-sharp fo­cus and un­equalled wis­dom. He also re­mained hum­ble, treat­ing every­one he in­ter­acted with as the most im­por­tant peo­ple he had come across,” said Pres­i­dent Zuma.

Tambo earned the re­spect of his var­i­ous au­di­ences and, to­gether with his com­rades, they suc­ceeded in build­ing a for­mi­da­ble in­ter­na­tional move­ment against apartheid and sup­port for free­dom fight­ers in­side South Africa and abroad, he added.

“Com­rade Tambo's lead­er­ship in mo­bil­is­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity put our strug­gle on top of the agenda of in­ter­na­tional bod­ies such as the United Na­tions (UN) and also the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for African Unity. The dec­la­ra­tion by the UN of apartheid as a crime against hu­man­ity is largely a tribute to his tire­less ef­forts,” he said.

The Pres­i­dent said Tambo dis­tin­guished him­self in lead­ing the ANC when it faced some of the most in­tractable prob­lems since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1912.

“Dur­ing his lead­er­ship of the ANC thou­sands of young peo­ple left South Africa to join the ranks of the MK and the ANC.They were scat­tered in far-flung cor­ners of the globe of­ten un­der des­per­ate con­di­tions.”

Pres­i­dent Zuma added that some­times the frus­tra­tions of liv­ing in ex­ile un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions sur­faced and morale of­ten fell. But it was thanks to Tambo's lead­er­ship skills that the lib­er­a­tion move­ment was kept to­gether, and that the strug­gle con­tin­ued in earnest.

Tambo demon­strated his lead­er­ship when he con­vened the Moro­goro Con­fer­ence in 1969 to ad­dress

some of the chal­lenges fac­ing the ANC in ex­ile and to chart a way for­ward in the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion, he said.

Wel­com­ing vis­i­tors to SA

In an ear­lier event, govern­ment hon­oured Tambo by un­veil­ing a statue in his hon­our at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“The in­stal­la­tion of this statue at the in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals hall of this air­port is es­pe­cially fit­ting as it was to this air­port that OR Tambo would re­turn in 1990 af­ter 30 years in ex­ile – fi­nally, to be greeted by his own peo­ple,” said Pres­i­dent Zuma at that event.

The 2.5 me­tre bronze statue is sit­u­ated at the in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals sec­tion of the air­port, so in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors will be greeted by it upon ar­rival to South Africa.

Do­mes­tic trav­ellers will also be able to see the statue as they nav­i­gate to the do­mes­tic ter­mi­nals.

The statue was sculpted by Kgao­gelo Mashilo, Pa­ballo Ma­jela and Zelda Stroud from Sculp­ture Cast­ing Ser­vices. It de­picts Tambo com­ing off an aero­plane with suit­cases.

Tambo's son, Dali Tambo, said the statue is sym­bolic of the many trav­els Tambo con­ducted in his fight for the lib­er­a­tion of South Africa.The statue also shows him com­ing down two steps which sym­bol­ises the steps he was tak­ing not only into the coun­try but into his last days as he was not well at the time.

“One of the great­est re­sources South Africa has is its her­itage and this statue is a piece of that her­itage,” said Dali.

Thank­ing of­fi­cials, Dali said the statue was a great tribute to his father's life and his con­tri­bu­tion to the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle and South Africa.Trans­port Min­is­ter Joe Maswan­ganyi said it was be­fit­ting that the statue was erected at one of the busiest air­ports in the coun­try.The air­port re­ceived 21 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2016.

In ad­di­tion to the statue, a bust of the strug­gle icon was un­veiled and Air Traf­fic Nav­i­ga­tion Ser­vices (ATNS) was re­named af­ter OR Tambo.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ad­dresses the thou­sands who gath­ered in Nkan­tolo to cel­e­brate the life of OR Tambo.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was joined by mem­bers of the Tambo fam­ily when he re­cently un­veiled a statue of Tambo at the OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

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