OR Tambo: Remembering an icon
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.