COSATU celebrates the life of the late President of the African National Congress, Oliver Tambo

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) celebrates the life of the late President of the African National Congress (ANC), Isithwalandwe/ Seaparankoe Oliver Reginald Tambo as we honour the 31st anniversary of his passing.  As we navigate the many complex challenges facing South Africa and at times painful setbacks, we would do well to reflect on the values and sacrifices of comrade OR.

Oliver Tambo’s life was a journey of determination, sacrifice and hard work.  Born in the remote poverty-stricken district of eMbizana in the Eastern Cape, his family invested in his education from St. Peters College in Johannesburg to the University of Fort Hare.  He was determined to decide his path and not allow the circumstances of his birth and history set it for him. 

OR was above all a servant of the people, their struggles and the liberation movement.  He never sought high office but was rather called upon to serve by his peers who saw in him, remarkable leadership traits.  This saw him not only becoming a leader of the ANC Youth League that played a key role in rejuvenating an ANC that had become staid, but in fact becoming the most important leader of the ANC serving as President (acting and later elected) during its darkest days from banning to exile to returning home.

These were not easy times and much fell upon the shoulders of Tambo with Nelson Mandela and other Rivonia Trialists imprisoned for life in Robben Island, Ahmed Timol and Ruth First and many others murdered by the apartheid regime, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and countless others subjected to banishment and detention. 

President Tambo had to set up the ANC in exile in newly independent states that were extremely vulnerable to military attacks from the apartheid regime.  He needed to put in place capacity to receive thousands of exiles fleeing police brutality and establish training and educational opportunities for them across the world.  He was tasked to build a nascent military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

OR did all of this and excelled.  The ANC led the revival and ultimately the triumph of the liberation struggle through its four pillars.  These were anchored upon the mass mobilisation and uprisings from student protests and workers’ strikes and mass defiance with the United Democratic Front, COSATU and other democratic formations.  They included the building a mass underground that linked the internal and the external wings of the liberation movement.  It featured armed struggle by MK which struck at the heart of the apartheid regime with successful attacks on the headquarters of the South African Defence Force in Pretoria, Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, SASOL amongst others.  It was buttressed by one of the world’s most successful international solidarity campaigns that saw the apartheid regime isolated internationally with apartheid being declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.

President Tambo sadly did not live to see the birth of the democratic South Africa he dedicated his entire life to achieving.  Without doubt he would have been pained by the crass behaviour of some amongst us who could not control their lust for money and power.  He would have been devastated by those who once walked with him who have sought to divide the movement he kept alive in the most difficult times.

We are convinced that he would have been proud that South Africa is today a robust and noisy democracy, that 60% of the state budget is invested in uplifting working class communities, that the rights of workers are affirmed in our progressive Constitution and the shackles of apartheid slowly being eroded.  He would have agreed with the state providing financial relief to 27 million citizens, but he would expect us to do more to grow the economy, slash unemployment and create decent work.  He would commend the culture of political accountability painstakingly being built by President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC where even the most powerful citizens are being held accountable when they fall foul of the law.

It is with this memory of the life and struggles, the achievements and expectations of one of the founding fathers of our democracy, Oliver Tambo, that COSATU and its Affiliates are crisscrossing workplaces and communities across the country, from Nkantolo where his life began to Benoni where he is buried, engaging workers on their challenges and why it is important to come out in our numbers to vote on May 29th.  Where are confident that not only are we rallying workers to return his beloved ANC to power, but we will continue to build a better life for all.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator 
Cell: 082 785 0687