Remembering Oliver Tambo in Zambia


WHEN South African President Jacob Zuma was in Zambia recently, he and President Lungu, officially opened the OR Tambo National Heritage Site, a national monument, the house that sheltered one of South Africa’s renowned freedom fighters, Oliver Reginald Tambo (right), as part of celebrating the legacy and centenary year of South Africa’s struggle stalwart.

Early this year, the Zambian government decided to make the house which sheltered Mr Tambo for 22 years a heritage site.
Mr Tambo, fondly known as OR, was a household name in Zambia, in Africa and all over the world. He is remembered as a tactful liberation leader who joined the struggle for freedom and justice as a student leader at Fort Hare University in South Africa, where he was expelled for organising student strikes.
Tambo and other young leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were the founding members of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in 1943, becoming its national secretary and member of the National Executive Committee in 1948.
It was the ANC Youth League which later proposed a change of tactics in fighting apartheid, from petitions and demonstrations, to boycotts, civil disobedience, strikes and non-collaboration after the former tactics were considered insufficient.
In 1955, Mr Tambo became secretary general of the ANC after Sisulu was banned by the South African government under the suppression of Communism Act, before becoming deputy president of the ANC in 1958.
In 1959, he was served with a five-year banning order by the government of South Africa. In response to this ban, the ANC leadership decided to send him abroad to mobilise opposition to apartheid, before becoming acting president of the ANC in 1967, following the death of Chief Albert Luthuli, who was then the ANC president.
In 1985, Mr Tambo was re-elected president of the ANC, a position he held until his death on April 24, 1993.
In South Africa, the struggle against apartheid led many political activists to go into exile Mr Tambo sought political asylum in many countries.
Zambia was one of the few countries that had committed and declared its firm support for the freedom struggle against apartheid in South Africa and other parts of Africa, which were still under white minority rule and other forms of racial oppression.
It is against this background that President Kaunda welcomed a number of liberation movements and their leaders such as Mr Tambo and other leaders of the ANC in Zambia. The country established the Liberation Centre along Chilimbulu Road in Lusaka with the full support of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Liberation Committee where the ANC and Mr Tambo had offices.
There were also other liberation movements there such as the Pan African Congress and the Unity Movement of South Africa, Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, Mozambique Liberation Front, South West African People’s Organisation of Namibia, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union.
Following the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, the release of political prisoners and the transition to a new democratic South Africa, Mr Tambo and other leaders returned to South Africa on December 13, 1990. However, at the ANC conference held in Durban in 1991, Mr Tambo declined to stand for any position.
Therefore, Nelson Mandela, who had just been released from prison at Robben Island, was elected president of the ANC and the position of national chairman was then created to honour Mr Tambo, a position he held until his death.
As part of Mr Tambo’s centenary celebration and in honour of a leader who led the ANC in exile as a liberation movement over three decades of relentless struggle and for having guided his country towards the achievement of democracy, 2017 has also been declared as the year of OR Tambo by the governing ANC in South Africa
Therefore, the OR Tambo National Heritage Site, which was officially opened in Lusaka’s Avondale in Zambia by President Zuma and President Lungu, is symbolic of the role that Zambia played in the liberation struggle of South Africa and the rest of southern Africa.
The site should also be an opportunity for citizens of both countries and the region at large to visit and learn about the leaders who dedicated and contributed their lives to the liberation of their people. There is no doubt that this historic site will further uphold and strengthen the common heritage and history which is shared between Zambia and South Africa.
The author is a social commentator and blogger.

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