A 100 Years of Tambo

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Picture: Oliver Reginald Tambo (27 October 1917– 24 April 1993) served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1967 to 1991. (Photo: sawip)

On 8 January 2017 in  Orlando, Soweto, Gauteng, the African National Congress (ANC) pronounced this year as the year of OR.  Oliver Reginald Tambo would have celebrated 100 years of age had he lived until 2017. OR Tambo was the president of the ANC from 1967 to 1991 and is regarded by the ANC as “the glue that held the many facets of the ANC together during the difficult years in exile.” OR is greatly known for the role he played when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in Robin Island, he was responsible for attracting international interest and sympathy for the unjust imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and against the regime which perpetrated genocide against the majority of its people. This great African revolutionary was born on the 27th of October 1917 and died on the 24th of April 1993.

According to the National Executive Committee of the ANC in the statement on the occasion of the 105th Anniversary of the African National Congress, Tambo “often emphasised that the ANC has a vision of South Africa in which black and white live in conditions of peace and prosperity.” The ANC claims that all its actions are driven by the struggle for economic freedom and prosperity for all South Africans.  The movement points out to the fact that the country’s economy “was growing at an average of nearly 4 per cent” as a determent of the progress and achievements it has led since its attainment of power.

In his address to the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1986, Oliver Thambo emphasised that the struggle did not aim to innovate what Botha’s regime described as reforms and that it was not about “partial improvements in the conditions of life of the black oppressed majority” rather the struggle was about “the urgent necessity for all South Africans to govern… together, to determine the future as equals, to fashion it into a peaceful and prosperous motherland, the common patrimony of all its people, both black and white.” Prior to OR leading the negotiations towards the democratic transition he had led the ANC team that drafted the Harare Declaration, which set out the ANC’s proposals for a political settlement and for negotiations aimed at resolving the South African conflict.

It is without a doubt that OR Thambo played a very significant role in the liberation of this country and at some point had led the mass struggle single handed. What remains at present is to ask or evaluate if his contribution to the struggle was fruitful and if it meets his idea of liberation as he had articulated particularly from its “the people first” perspective. OR is said to have been a “dedicated Comrade” one which believed that the people shall and should be first to benefit from their government and the leadership of the state as large. However the “dedicated Comrade” would be shocked to the see that all the effort put into the struggle so that the people should benefit is slowly being undermined. One sign which points to the beginning of undermining such efforts is the pathetic implementation of the basic but crucial clauses in the freedom charter.

The freedom charter contains three most important clauses to the realisation of “prosperity” in this country, clauses that have been undermined by a government claiming to be progressively democratic and one which has a “good story to tell”.  These three most important clauses state that:

“The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life; All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands; The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace; Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit; Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan; Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens; The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.”

“The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth! The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people; All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.”

“Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws; All people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country; The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex; All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.”

There is plenty of evidence to show that the basic intentions of these clauses have been undermined by this government, through a very low level of implementation and corruption. One of the youth league leaders from KZN admitted during it’s the ANC’s policy conference of 2017 that the movement has difficulties of taking policy with a plan of implementation into government and to execute these policies successfully. While OR was known for proficiency and excellence, the movement and the leadership of today seems to represent the opposite.