October month is important in the African National Congress (ANC) as it marks Oliver Tambo Month, a month of renewal and reflection on the values of our glorious movement, based on the life of this illustrious leader of our people.
On this day, 27th of October 2016, President Oliver Reginald Tambo would have turned 99 years old. This makes 2017 a crucial year for our movement as it marks the Centenary of OR, one of the most outstanding leaders to be produced by our country and continent.
We must therefore use the next twelve months leading to the centenary of OR Tambo to draw the best lessons from his life and to understand his rare qualities that compelled our icon and former President Nelson Mandela to describe him as “a great giant that strode the globe like a colossus.”
Deep and strategic reflections on the life of President Oliver Tambo will offer us the opportunity to confront and deal with the challenges facing both the ANC as a movement of the people and our beloved country, South Africa at this juncture.
This is because OR Tambo was a solution oriented leader who always sought to move forward on the basis of building consensus among all forces necessary for such a movement forward. This ability to bring together people with different views on both strategic and tactical questions and inculcating in them the appreciation of superior logic earned President Tambo great admiration from all his comrades and affirmed him as an impartial leader belonging rigidly to no particular group or strand of thinking within the movement.
Comrade OR, as he is affectionately known, gave everyone in our movement the confidence that they could engage him on any matter and they would receive a fair hearing without prejudice or predetermined attitudes. It is precisely owing to this that he is credited foremost among all leaders as the one who skilfully held our movement together during the darkest days in our history when all seemed hopeless.
The longest ever serving president of the African National Congress from 1969 to 1991, OR Tambo’s presidency firmly entrenched the broad church character of the ANC, where all comrades from various ideological persuasions felt at home in our movement, united by their commitment to realize the strategic objective to create a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. O.R. insisted through his words and conduct that there are no antagonistic contradictions between the ideological strands existent within the ANC and he possessed the rare ability to quell whatever tensions arising from nationalist anxieties and communist imaginations in particular.
He was the embodiment of our broad church character which he correctly understood as a necessity and precondition for the unity of all the motive forces of our National Democratic Revolution. It is for this reason that the tripartite alliance of the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party grew stronger under his leadership, based on a solid political programme and led by the ANC.
His tolerant, measured and cautious response to difficult situations allowed for the impatience and militancy characteristic of young people to find expression in the body politic of the ANC. President Tambo allowed for the development of young people and their growth through the ranks of our movement, whilst at the same time insisting on the observation of organizational discipline. He appreciated the energy of young people and sought to exploit it appropriately in order to propel the ANC onto a higher trajectory of struggle. President Tambo centrally determined the overarching political direction of a key generation that earned itself a reputation as the “young lions of Oliver Tambo.”
His connection with and understanding of young people in the ANC was indeed informed by the fact that decades before he became President, he had been part of the radical generation that founded the ANC Youth League and served as its very first Secretary. We all therefore have a responsibility to learn from OR how to better handle contradictions that arise between the young and the old comrades, operating within the same political space.
One of the things that set OR Tambo above many was his spirit of self-sacrifice. A few days after the Sharpeville Massacre in the then Transvaal in the autumn of 1960, the African National Congress dispatched him to go and galvanize international support for the revolutionary anti-apartheid struggle.
Without thought of it, OR obliged and placed himself wholly at the disposal of his movement. Unbeknown to him, he was to set foot on the land of his birth again only three decades later. Such was the sacrifice that this humble servant was willing to make for the liberation of South Africans.
He represents the calibre of cadreship envisioned in our Strategy & Tactics document when it says:
“Wherever they are to be found, ANC cadres should act as the custodians of the principles of fundamental social change; winning respect among their peers and society at large through exemplary conduct. They must be informed by values of honesty, hard work, humility, service to the people and respect for the laws of the land.”
President Tambo epitomized these and other age old values upon which our movement was founded more than 104 years ago.
In memory of this stalwart of our movement who made an unmatched contribution to the liberation struggle of the South African people, let us continue efforts to unite the ANC so that it can better serve the people of our country. Like OR Tambo, we must not be too inward looking when dealing with our challenges. We must always look at our challenges in the context of the broader implications they have on our people.
Our branches must use this OR Tambo month to deepen our reflection and intensify debate about the current political situation, domestically and globally, using the question “what would OR Tambo have done” as a stimulus to such a debate. Needless to say, such a debate would require that ordinary members of the ANC improve their knowledge of President Oliver Reginald Tambo.
For it was Comrade OR who warned prophetically in 1977 in Angola: “Comrades, you might think it is very difficult to wage a liberation struggle. Wait until you are in power. I might be dead by then. At that stage you will realize that it is actually more difficult to keep the power than to wage a liberation war. People will be expecting a lot of services from you. You will have to satisfy the various demands of the masses of our people. In the process, be prepared to learn from other people’s revolutions. Learn from the enemy also. The enemy is not necessarily doing everything wrongly. You may take his right tactics and use them to your advantage. At the same time, avoid repeating the enemy’s mistakes.”
As we recall the wisdom of this giant leader and unifier of our movement, we also call on our structures to hold public lectures aimed at educating society at large about this inimitable leader of our revolution after whom an important international airport in our country was named.
The celebration of President Tambo and his contribution to our struggle must mark the beginning of efforts to teach our people in earnest about all their heroes and heroines who made immense sacrifices for our liberation, more so to assist us address the pressing challenges facing both the African National Congress as the leader of our society and the society it continues to lead.
CDE JACOB ZUMA IS ANC PRESIDENT