ANC and Alliance leaders
Comrades and Friends
We have gathered here today as part of the celebration of the historic Centenary of the ANC stalwart, Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, affectionately known as O.R. The Centenary celebration of Comrade O.R. Tambo gives us the opportunity as a nation to reflect on the contributions, to the national cause, made by this true son of the soil: a patriot who served the people of South Africa and world with distinction. It is an opportunity to pay tribute to, and sustain the memory of the finest and greatest son of Africa. Fittingly, Comrade O.R. is regarded as one of the greatest liberators of the 20th century alongside ANC stalwarts such as Nelson Mandela, Charlotte Maxeke, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Chief Albert Luthuli and many others.
As early as 1959, the young Oliver Tambo had already made an impression on the ANC President at the time Chief Albert Luthuli. He said of Comrade O.R.: “The quality of our deputy president, Oliver Tambo’s speech makes me very happy – even if I and others in the leadership of the ANC were to die, there are young men like Oliver Tambo who are now ready to take responsibility for the ANC.”
Comrade Chairperson; I am overwhelmed by the honour extended to me to deliver the Oliver Tambo Memorial Lecture today. Despite the temptation, I don’t intend to present to you the truncated biography of Comrade Oliver Tambo that you already know.
Comrade Chairperson; with these few words I already feel a sense of inadequacy that contemporary history has bestowed upon me the task of speaking about one of our own - the most gifted and committed son of the soil: a unifier, and a revolutionary par excellence.
Comrades and fellow Compatriots, I am deeply humbled by this honour. And, I wish to heartily thank the organisers and all of you for being present today.
Comrade Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo (O.R.) was born in the village of Kantolo, Bizana, in the Mpondoland (eQawukeni), region of the Eastern Cape, on 27th October 1917. He passed away on the 24th April 1993. If he was still alive, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year hence the centenary celebration in his honour.
With your permission Comrade Chairperson, given the prevailing sense of impending doom in our nation, the teachings and exemplary leadership qualities of Comrade O.R. are solely missed.
Comrade Chairperson, there is corrosive sense of disunity within the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC) and broadly among the Mass Democratic Movement. It is with sadness that we learnt on Thursday; that Comrade Makhosi Khoza has quit the movement. She said that the ANC has become, “corrupt and alien to her over the years.” Apart from disunity amongst our ranks, there is a growing social distance between the rulers and ruled. There is a growing chasm between black and white. There is an unsustainable high level of inequality between the rich and poor.
Comrade Chairperson, it is therefore no exaggeration to claim that as we speak today, we seem to have reached a cul-de-sac in terms of quality of leadership that the movement as a leader of society can deliver and mould into a colossal as was Comrade O.R. It is that kind of leadership that can confront, head-on, the social malaise facing both the country and our movement, the ANC.
Nonetheless, we cannot allow our movement to reach a precipice. We must refuse to through away the baby with bath water. I believe that even in this eleventh hour: our movement which Comrade Oliver Tambo dedicated his life to can still extract itself from the current morass. I am convinced that there is a silent majority of good men and women in our movement who would help the movement to hasten its self-correction and thus enter a new dawn of renewal.
We must boldly say on the eve of the 2017 December Elective Conference that we are on the verge of beginning an irreversible renewal of the ANC. It is through the collective wisdom of the ANC members that we can begin this arduous process of renewal. As long as Comrade Tambo’s legacy lives we cannot allow the ANC to die.
Comrade Chairperson, while the fate of the democratic project is largely in the hands of a handful of ANC members, we must not forget that millions more outside the ANC do wish that this great movement of Comrade Oliver Tambo succeeds. That’s the reason that we have over successive elections been given an overwhelming majority to lead the Republic of South Africa.
Therefore, while we are busy navel-gazing as members of the ANC, we must be open to be persuaded by a variety of civil society groupings, the ANC Veterans, NGOs, prominent South Africans found in academia, churches, business and our international friends and critics. We arrogated ourselves the tag of leader of society; it is high time that we behave as such.
Chairperson, I cannot help but recall the words of former President Thabo Mbeki that he uttered on the occasion of Comrade Oliver Tambo Memorial Lecture in 2012. He said: “I must state that I have prepared this Lecture deeply troubled by a feeling of great unease that our beloved Motherland is losing its sense of direction, and that, we are allowing ourselves to progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis.” At the time he said these words, there was a clamour to call him a prophet of doom. We all sadly assumed that he was exaggerating the challenges facing our country.
But, Comrade Chairperson, today, I do have my own sense of great unease about the direction and future of our motherland. Our country is overrun by pervasive corruption and its by-product, namely the State capture of key State institutions to serve the interest of the rent seekers. Sadly, the State capture predatory elites have found amenable co-conspirators in the private sector. The cancer of corruption both within the public sector as well as private sector is so pervasive that its scale, scope, and complexity are yet to be fully comprehended.
In this regard, only a fully-fledged Commission of Enquiry into State Capture with both investigative capacity and powers of subpoena will rid our country of this cyst.
But, there is another cancer that is openly eating at the fibre of society, namely political killings in particular in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. These are not the State sponsored killings as we witnessed during the apartheid times. This is intra-party killings so that the winner (in this case the killer) can ascend to the leadership position that comes with perks, status and proximity to State tenders.
All of these: the rent seekers, the enablers of State capture, victims of political killings are members of the ANC as are you and I. We must say boldly today that South Africa has no need for the criminals who would acquire political power by slaughtering the innocents as do the butchers of the people in KwaZulu-Natal. We must say enough and no more. We must act to banish the shame of political related killings in our body politic. This requires leadership with the same zeal and clarity of mind as Comrade O.R.. What we yearn for today is a unifier in the mould of Comrade O.R..
As if the killing of leaders wasn’t enough, there is another elephant in the room, namely the manipulation of ANC membership so as to influence elective conferences. The ANC is investigating membership fraud in four provinces – just a few months before our crucial national elective conference where if nominated both Cde Nkosazana Dlamini and Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, are likely to go head to head. It is also an open season of taking the ANC to courts over the failure of internal democracy.
It’s alleged that as many as 200 000 membership forms were forged in KwaZulu-Natal alone. Other allegations of fraud include the use of fake names, cloning bank stamps, buying members and banks colluding with ANC members.
In an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian in July this year ANC Treasurer General Comrade Zweli Mkhize confirmed that his office was investigating collusion between bank officials and ANC members, as well as the bulk buying of membership in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Obviously, at stake here is the credibility of the December election conference.
Consequently, as former President Thabo Mbeki once warned: “We must remain vigilant in the struggle to defeat the abuse of membership of Comrade Oliver Tambo’s ANC, and the consequent access to state power, as a stepladder to the corrupt acquisition of personal wealth, at the expense of the masses of our people.”
In this context I am convinced that it would be treacherous to bury our heads in the sand as if we were an ostrich and behave as though we remain on course in terms of the achievement of our shared and various national objectives. We are indeed on a slippery slope – South Africa recorded a government debt equivalent to 51.70 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product in 2016. In 2017 alone, Fitch became the second major rating agency to downgrade SA's rating to junk status, cutting both the foreign currency and local currency, after S&P Global Ratings downgrade of SA’s foreign currency rating. Interestingly: both agencies reference political and policy uncertainty as major drivers of the dreaded downgrades, not to mention the fiscus guzzling State Owned Enterprises such as the SAA, and SABC to name just a few. In actual fact this means we were downgraded due to poor political decisions and failure to have policy clarity that would allow foreign and domestic capital to have a long-term confidence in our economy. To me this sounds like an avalanche of own goals. We have just emerged from a technical recession by a whisper.
Adding fuel to the raging fire is that poverty has worsened in our country. According to Statistics South Africa’s “Poverty trends in South Africa: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015,” a staggering 30.4-million of South Africa’s 55-million citizens in 2015 – three million more than in 2011 – lived in poverty, or below the upper poverty line of R992 per person per month. One in three South Africans lived on less than R797 per month, or half of the country’s 2015 mean annual household income of R19,120, with more women affected than men, and children and the elderly hardest hit, while racial inequalities continue to define poverty as largely a black African problem.
Be that as it may, instead of asking rhetorical questions about what Comrade O.R. would have done and said today, we need to ask what lessons we can draw from his exemplary leadership. In answering this question former president Thabo Mbeki said about this great leader: “Tambo was an intellectual in the best meaning of the word. He was a person of reason, a person of rational thought and rational action. It’s a great ability, a great gift, that gift of reason it was central to Tambo’s make-up and central to his behaviour. With Tambo, you had a person who could deal with both the concrete and the abstract, the specific... between tactics and strategy - that dialectical interaction, Tambo understood very well.”
This, Comrade Chairperson - is the type of leadership that must emerge from the upcoming December Elective Conference. We need leaders with courage, compassion, high moral standing and, with no blemishes. We urgently need leaders who will shun self-help with public funds. We yearn for leaders who will put the interest of the Republic of South Africa first. I am not persuaded that the ANC after undergoing an overhaul will be unable to offer us this kind of leadership. ANC Lives! : ANC Leads!
Who was Comrade O.R.?
Comrade Chairperson, let me return to the subject of my address today and answer the key question: Who was Comrade O.R. Tambo? And what lessons can his life and exemplary leadership teach us today?
Comrade O.R. was a gigantic figure in the protracted liberation struggle against the intransigent and most brutal and morally bankrupt regime of the 20th century. Amongst many crimes against humanity orchestrated by the Pretoria regime, the most vile and unforgivable one was that it denied the young Tambo his fervent wish to be ordained minister of the church. Despite this hiatus Comrade Tambo emptied himself for the benefit of humanity as a leader of the ANC for some 30 years. Through both his words and deeds, he became, ‘the crystallisation and personification of what the ANC is’ [and became under his stewardship.]
Even in death, Comrade Tambo thought of nothing but the future of his motherland. His epitaph, reads, in his own words: “It is our responsibility to break down barriers of division and create a country where there will be neither Whites nor Blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.”
When we speak of the life, work and thought of Comrade Oliver Tambo, we cannot but speak of the unwavering desire of the South African people to be free and of the determined struggle to end oppression and exploitation in all its manifestations.
There are few individuals in our history who embody this desire more than Isithwalandwe Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo whose singular contribution to the cause of freedom will be felt for generations to come. Comrade Oliver Tambo was not only the President of the African National Congress during the worst excesses and most extreme repression of the apartheid regime. He was also the leader of a global movement to eradicate a system that was rightly determined to be a crime against humanity.
Comrade Oliver Tambo was an internationalist. He understood that the freedom of his people could not be divorced from the freedom of all people everywhere. He sought to build strong bonds of solidarity with other nations, not only so that South Africa may be free, but so that together we could build a better world.
Comrade Oliver Tambo; a humble former cattle herder boy who became a giant: a man with a vision for a better tomorrow; an exemplar of leadership and service to others. He left a rich legacy that will forever occupy a superior echelon within our minds and our hearts. Not only did he struggle against the injustices of his time, but he established the foundation for a democratic future. Though he would be the last to admit it, in many senses he is the architect of our freedom. He led us to the threshold of our democracy. It remains a source of great sadness that he did not live to finally cast his vote for a government based on the will of all the people.
We nevertheless draw comfort from the fact that the vision to which he dedicated his life – of a free and democratic society – remains at the centre of everything we do. The values that he espoused and the qualities he possessed continue to inspire and motivate us. If we were to do a DNA of our 1996 Constitution, we will find that it is littered with Tambo’s vision of freedom, compassion, equality and human rights for all.
Comrade Oliver Tambo was among the first leaders of the ANC to champion the empowerment of women. He understood that South Africa could not be free until its women were free. His firm, principled stance sometimes placed him at odds with prevailing attitudes and cultural norms. Yet he never relented. Like him, we should never relent.
Comrade Oliver Tambo was a unifier. He understood that nothing of value could be achieved unless we were united in our efforts. Even during periods of great danger and great difficulty, when it seemed that the centre would not hold, he worked tirelessly to ensure that the movement and the people remained united and focused. He managed to do so without suppressing divergent views. He created space for people to express, engage and persuade. And in so doing, arrive at common positions that all could embrace and defend.
Speaking of Comrade O.R. in 1994, another colossal of the struggle Comrade Xhamela, aka Walter Sisulu summed it up succinctly when he said: “Oliver Tambo’s remarkable work was not only as an organiser, but to mobilise and keep people together…Oliver, a man of harmony, could keep thousands of people under his thumb – disciplined – yet he was still admired and loved…That was a great contribution he made.”
As we grapple with the challenges of the present, we would be well advised to draw on the example of Comrade O.R. Tambo.
Speaking at the ANC’s first legal National Consultative Conference inside the country, in December 1990, Comrade Tambo said: “One can never overemphasise the importance of unity. Our very survival as a cohesive movement depends on our unity in action. The struggle is far from over. If anything, it has become more complex, and, therefore, more difficult.”
He said that we have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity. In short, he sought to create a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa, of which we enjoy today.
Delivering a eulogy at Comrade O.R.’s funeral in 1993, the late revered statesman President Nelson Mandela said: “Oliver lived not because he could breathe. He lived not because blood flowed through his veins. Oliver lived not because he did all the things that all of us as ordinary men and women do. Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people. He lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision. While he lived, our minds would never quite formulate the thought that this man is other than what the naked eye could see.”
More than any other epoch in history, we solely need to revive the promise of freedom. We need to galvanise all sectors of society around a common vision. We solely need leaders who will inspire, affirm, and encourage all South Africans to work for the common good of the Republic. We must give our people hope for a better tomorrow. We must surrender our very being to the prosecution of the second phase of democratic transition: economic emancipation of our people from the bondage of the colonial apartheid economics.
In conclusion, as Madiba said: “let all of us who live say that while we live, the ideals for which Comrade Oliver Tambo lived, sacrificed and died will not die!”