National OR Tambo Memorial Lecture Series Inaugural address by His Excellency Dr Jacob G Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, OR Tambo Iternational Airport
24 Oct 2011Mr Dali Tambo and the entire Tambo family,
Esteemed Trustees and Founding Members of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
ANC Officials and NEC members,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
It is with utmost humility and respect that I stand here to pay homage to Comrade President OR Tambo and his dear wife, Comrade Adelaide Tambo, our mother, in this inaugural National O R Tambo Memorial Lecture Series.
When Oliver Reginald Tambo was born on 27 October 1917, in Nkantolo, Mbizana in the Eastern Cape, little did his parents know that this child was to immensely influence and shape the history of South Africa.
It is therefore a wonderful occasion to be able to celebrate his life today, a life lived in the service of humanity.
We are paying tribute to a man whose memory invokes admiration, respect, love and honour by ANC members and lovers of freedom and human rights worldwide who came into contact with him.
Those who were in exile will confirm that to serve and be mentored closely by OR Tambo, to work with him and observe him in action, was the dream of any ANC cadre and leader.
It is wonderful to come together to celebrate a man whose contribution to our country, was to keep intact, a movement that held the hopes and dreams of freedom of millions of our people.
President OR was able to rebuild the ANC in exile after the Rivonia arrests.
President OR Tambo was indeed the glue that held the ANC together in exile during challenging conditions.
He managed to do this because of his leadership qualities. Key amongst these, was the fact that he was a good listener and always sought to achieve consensus.
He was humble and respected every viewpoint, and in that way, he was able to make all feel important and welcomed in the organisation.
President's leadership skills created the foundation for an ANC that would not deviate from its core values and principles.
The values of unity, selflessness, sacrifice, collective leadership, humility, honesty, discipline, hard work, internal debates, constructive criticism and self-criticism and mutual respect, encapsulate what President Tambo stood for.
Another key trait was political clarity, which enabled him to conceptualise and articulate the policies and programmes of the organisation well.
His comrade and closest colleague and friend who worked with him for a long time, almost as number two in the ANC, Comrade Moses Mabhida, described OR as a political visionary with such clarity and foresight, he would say OR could see things ''five years before we could see them'''.
We are honouring President OR who was humble and extremely diplomatic when putting his views across. He believed in debates.
Members of the ANC, particularly the leadership, would continuously deepen their understanding of the ANC, the culture and policies of the movement under his leadership.
The national executive that he chaired met for seven days in its ordinary sessions to enable extensive discussions.
Only special and urgent meetings of the NEC, discussing special and urgent issues would meet for three days. This indicates how patient and dedicated he was to the growth of the movement.
The week-long meetings enabled the leadership to clarify their political understanding of the issues, the country and the globe.
Not a single one of the members who served under his leadership around the 1970s or 1980s did not at some point face OR's sharpest tongue, as he argued his point to help you understand which way things must go.
He had no difficulty at times to take on the entire national executive committee, on matters of principle and policies.
I remember one National Executive Committee meeting that met in Angola, discussing an issue that the whole NEC was in agreement about.
Comrade OR dealt with every argument that we tried to present, and his view prevailed given the facts and the manner in which he was arguing.
After the meeting, I said to him; ''Today, Comrade President, you combined law and mathematics in your arguments'', which was the two subjects he had specialised in.
That leadership of the ANC that he presided over, developed a culture of consensus in taking decisions, precisely because it gave itself time to debate matters thoroughly, frankly and comradely.
That culture permeated throughout the organisation.
Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, we are celebrating a truly exceptional human being.
Another key trait was his caring nature. He cared for his comrades and colleagues. You could not fail to feel his warm and caring nature.
If he noticed that someone was wearing shoes without shoelaces, he would stop and ask what had happened to the shoelaces, and would want to solve the problem.
He was really a father figure that made everyone feel loved and cared for. He was truly an amazing human being.
Also important, Comrade OR would make people feel part of the activities around the organization. He would encourage you to speak your mind, and in that way, trained many to become rounded leaders.
In other words ladies and gentlemen, President OR paid attention to both the smallest issues as well as the most complicated and sophisticated issues.
He also had a gift of understanding somebody else's position. Even at the extreme kind of situations, he would be cool, calm and collected, never missing the opportunity of thinking about any situation.
Thus, whenever he spoke, he was always relevant to matters needing to be attended to.
What made him stand out more, was that he understood the African National Congress thoroughly. He understood its mission, its role and what its membership should do.
He understood the Alliance and the broader Congress movement, and understood its importance and how to enhance and enrich it to be more united and more empowered to carry on the struggle.
He understood the role of the armed struggle in the context of the South African revolution.
He understood the relationship between the African National Congress and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), and why the organised working class was an important factor in the struggle.
He also understood the relationship between the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, and the role the South African Communist Party was playing in the struggle for our liberation.
But he also understood the role played by individual communists within the ANC.
That is the reason why he earned the highest respect of all the Alliance partners and broader Congress movement.
He was always ready to provide answers even on most difficult challenges and questions.
This brilliant leader was also a brave revolutionary, a quality that inspired members of Umkhonto Wesizwe. Many cadres who would be sent to missions inside the country to carry out missions, would always remember OR's bravery and commanding capabilities.
In fact, MK members did not regard OR only as a leader, but in a serious sense, as a commander-in-chief of Umkhonto Wesizwe, and also as a father under whom they were ready to take the command, and if need be, make the supreme sacrifice.
In him there was a commander and a commissar. He was loved by MK cadres beyond description.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Many of you know that President OR also understood the international situation, and understood how diplomacy worked.
He made friends and foes agree with his point of view. He commanded respect which he earned out of his exemplary leadership.
He traversed the world, addressing the Organisation for African Unity, the United Nations and other international gatherings mobilising support against apartheid.
He galvanised support from ordinary men and women and governments in Africa and the Diaspora and also nurtured the growth of vibrant anti-apartheid movements in Europe and other parts of the world.
He nurtured solidarity with the Soviet Union, Cuba, China and other friends of our liberation movement during difficult times and those friendships remain durable to this day. Our foreign policy is in a sense a continuation of the work that President Tambo started.
His success with international mobilisation against apartheid is evidenced by the fact that by 1990, the ANC had 27 missions abroad which was impressive for a liberation movement.
Oliver Tambo succeeded because he understood that international solidarity was a critical weapon in the fight against the apartheid regime.
The fact that the United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity, is in the main a result of his tireless diplomatic work.
The campaign to release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, campaign for sanctions against apartheid South Africa and the creation of an understanding of South Africa under apartheid, were skillfully executed under his leadership.
There are many examples proving his success. For example, by August 1982 a total of 2,000 mayors in 53 countries worldwide had signed a petition for Nelson Mandela's release.
He commanded the respect of all leaders in the world.
When he took the platform in international conferences, leaders and participants would stop the bilateral meetings and come to where he would be speaking to listen to the words of wisdom.
Whoever met him, would discover the real Oliver Tambo.
I remember the first meeting that he had with the foreign secretary of Britain, Sir Geofrey Howe, where towards the end of the meeting, Sir Geofrey expressed his regret at not meeting President OR early enough as he felt the United Kingdom would not have had difficulty doing what he said should be done.
Comrade Tambo's highly successful international mobilisation programme made him to be recognised as a head of state by Africa and many countries in the world.
The ANC became a government-in-waiting in the eyes of the world, as a result of Comrade OR's work and positioning of the movement.
Given the success of his international campaign, it is no accident that the OR Tambo International Airport, the main port of entry in our country, is named after this illustrious son of our country who opened the world for this country.
It is also by design that the headquarters of the country's Department of International Relations is called OR Tambo House.
Our diplomats would do well to study his work so that they can be able to follow his teachings carefully and implement what he worked so hard to achieve.
It is also no accident ladies and gentlemen, that the foremost National Order the President of the Republic awards, is called the Companions of OR Tambo, given the friends, comrades and allies he created for South Africa and its people around the continent and the world.
Sadly, his love for the ANC and the South African people was to be costly to his health. He worked tirelessly during the period leading to negotiations with the apartheid regime during the late 1980s.
Writing about Oliver Tambo in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Madiba bemoans the fact that while Tambo Oliver had lived to see the prisoners released and the exiles return, he had not lived to cast his vote in a free and democratic South Africa.
Confronted by his friend and comrade's sudden final departure after a stroke on 23 April 1993, President Mandela said: "Oliver was pure gold, there was gold in his intellectual brilliance, gold in his warmth and humanity, gold in his tolerance and generosity, gold in his unfailing loyalty and self-sacrifice.
"As much as I respected him as a leader that is how much I loved him as a man''.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We recall President Tambo's profound words in 1991 in Westville, Durban when he handed over the reins of the ANC to Madiba.
He told conference delegates:
"I have devotedly watched over the organisation all these years. I now hand it back to you, bigger, stronger, in tact. Guard our precious Movement.”
That is the enormous task we were given by President OR Tambo, all who regard the ANC as the organisation that led them to freedom and the restoration of their dignity and human rights.
Next year when the country marks the centenary of the ANC, we will be able to give the correct perspective about our leaders such as OR and their contribution.
We also have an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of President Tambo through the work of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation that is being launched today.
The Foundation has chosen to champion socio-economic development, such as job creation, the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS, nature conservation as well as the protection and promotion of Arts, Culture and Heritage initiatives.
As part of paying tribute and defending the proud legacy of OR Tambo, government, though the Department of Arts and Culture, has allocated 24.8 million rand for the establishment of an interpretative centre at the Garden of Remembrance in Nkantolo, the erection of OR's statue and the hosting of exhibitions in honour of President OR Tambo.
We will also upgrade the homestead at which President O R Tambo was born and turn into a museum, depicting the life and times of OR.
A total of 15 million rand has been set aside for the further development of the Mpondo Revolt Commemorative Site, adjacent to the Holy Cross Church, in Nqquza Hills, where OR was a member and was baptised.
In addition the Holy Cross Church will be declared a heritage site.
Comrade OR led us to political freedom, we are now moving ahead. We took a major decision in January this year that 2011 will be the year of economic transformation and job creation.
We continue to focus on that goal, despite the challenging economic climate in which we are losing jobs instead of creating them.
To create the kind of prosperous society that President Tambo would want South Africa to be, we are working with business, labour and the community sector. We can create prosperity alone.
In March this year I met with business and labour separately. We agreed to have a joint session later in the year.
In November 18, I will host a joint meeting with business, labour and the community sector, to have an intensive discussion of the economic climate, economic transformation and job creation.
Working together we will be able to deal with the challenges that the country faces, especially the crisis of youth unemployment. Our young people are losing jobs in greater numbers while scores of others stay at home unable to find jobs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As South Africans we must count ourselves as privileged to be the children and grand children of OR Tambo, to walk on the footsteps of this great giant, to have climbed on his broad shoulders as he showed us the way to freedom and to have been able to drink from his well of wisdom.
Current and future generations of South Africans will remain forever indebted to OR Tambo and his generation of freedom fighters, not only for the role they played in our struggle for national liberation, but also in shaping the South Africa of our dreams; a society we can all be proud of and a society rooted in freedom, equality and human dignity for all.
Let us allow his words and deeds to stay with us, as we together continue to build a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, free and united South Africa.
Congratulations to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation. May it grow from strength to strength!I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency
24 Oct 2011
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