South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Address by ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Commemoration of the passing of Oliver Tambo

Comrades and Compatriots,


We gather here to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest sons of the African soil.


We are here to affirm the statement made by former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela when he declared:


“I say that Oliver Tambo has not died, because the ideals for which he sacrificed his life can never die.


“I say that Oliver Tambo has not died because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish.


“I say he has not died because there are many of us who became part of his soul and therefore willingly entered into a conspiracy with him, for the victory of his cause.


“While the ANC lives, Oliver Tambo cannot die!”                 


Today we say that for as long as we keep alive the ideals for which Oliver Tambo lived and sacrificed, the ANC will not die.


For Oliver Tambo, the unity of our people and the integrity of our liberation movement was paramount.


When the ANC sent him to build the movement abroad, he understood that he had been entrusted to ensure that the movement survives the brutal onslaught that had been unleashed by the apartheid regime.


But more than that, he had been entrusted with the task of rebuilding a powerful instrument of national liberation.


He understood that no matter the difficulties of the moment, he was to be the glue that would bind our movement together.


Addressing the people on 68th anniversary of the ANC in 1980, he spoke words that are just as true over four decades later.


He said:


“The need for the unity of the patriotic and democratic of our country has never been greater than it is today. Our unity has to be based on honesty among ourselves, the courage to face reality, adherence to what has been agreed upon, to principle.”


It is only if we are united – as the ANC, as the Alliance and as a country – that we will be able to overcome the many challenges facing our people today.


Despite the progress we have made since the advent of our democracy, millions of South Africans are faced with poverty, unemployment and inequality. The economic and social inheritance of apartheid and colonialism has been worsened by several crises. Some of the challenges we have are of our own making; some are the result of forces beyond our control.


The COVID-19 pandemic caused great devastation in our society and economy. It led to the loss of thousands of lives and threatened the livelihoods of millions. More recently, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has contributed to global economic instability and significant increases in food and fuel prices.


At the same time, many of the achievements of the ANC-led democratic government have been squandered by corruption and self-interest.


While there have been several different contributing factors, state capture is a common feature in many of the crises our people confront today. We see the effects of state capture in our inability to produce enough electricity, to provide reliable rail transport for commuters, to get our goods to the ports, and to effectively tackle crime


State capture was both an affront to the values that OR Tambo championed and a direct assault on the struggle to which he dedicated his life.


We have done much to restore vital public services, rebuild our institutions and undertake structural reforms in our economy. But there is a great deal more that we need to do.


If we are to overcome these grave challenges, we need to follow OR Tambo’s guidance – to be honest among ourselves, to have the courage to face reality and to adhere to principle.


We need to build consensus about the tasks that we need to undertake.


Our movement has a rich tradition of internal debate about our policies and programmes.


Even during the difficult times of exile and internal repression, OR Tambo was foremost among those who insisted that the policies, strategies and tactics of the movement be subject to broad consultation.


He was determined that we should win support for our cause through the strength of our arguments. We should give others a hearing and we should be confident enough to defend our positions. We should persuade and we should be prepared to be persuaded.


As instructed by our 55th National Conference in December, we have embarked on a programme of engagement with different formations, groupings and stakeholders across society. We are seeking to close the distance that has been allowed to develop between our movement and those with whom we need to work to build a better South Africa.


Oliver Tambo was excellent at building alliances. It was thanks to his alliance-building efforts that the anti-apartheid movement led one of the largest and most effective global campaigns of the 20th century.


He worked to mobilise different groupings around broadly-accepted programmes. He found ways for them to participate and contribute.


As we undertake the tasks of the present, we need to emulate OR Tambo.


We must build partnerships with formations across the length and breadth of South Africa in pursuit of our goal of radical social and economic transformation. We must build partnerships within communities to advance development.


We remember OR Tambo as the embodiment of selfless leadership, humility and compassion. Throughout his life he fought to tear down the barriers of prejudice, ignorance and injustice.


He was unreservedly committed to the emancipation of women. He challenged patriarchy in all its forms, both within society and within the liberation movement. He understood that the achievement of gender equality was a responsibility of both men and women.


Oliver Tambo was determined that the ANC should be a truly non-racial organisation. Today, we need to do more to ensure that in its policies, in its programmes and within its ranks, the ANC gives effect to this non-racial vision. We need to follow his example to build a country where there will be neither whites nor blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.


If we are to defeat poverty, unemployment and inequality, we must demonstrate the same dedication that OR Tambo did when he was given the task of rebuilding the ANC.


As the ANC, we have embarked on a journey of renewal and rebuilding.


We are working to ensure that the act of joining the ANC is a more meaningful and valued process.


Members of the ANC must feel on their shoulders the burden of responsibility. Like Oliver Tambo, they must understand that they have been entrusted with the future of the movement and with the successful prosecution of the struggle of our people.


Throughout his years as President, OR Tambo dedicated time and effort to building the structures of the movement. He understood that without an effective organisational instrument, even the most noble and most just of causes is doomed to fail.


Guided by the 55th National Conference resolutions we have embarked on a Programme of Action that positions the ANC as a campaigning organisation rooted among the masses.


The Programme of Action focuses on building the organisation and driving its renewal through our branches and members. It is only through political work in communities that we will be able to build a strong organisation, develop our cadreship and restore our standing in society.


We need to embrace the concept of revolutionary discipline as understood and practiced by Oliver Tambo.


For him, discipline was the product of a deliberate decision by an individual to dedicate their capabilities, resources and energy to the aims of the movement. For him, discipline was a consequence of the decision of an individual to join the African National Congress.


Discipline is about abiding by the decisions of the movement, and contributing actively to the development of policy and the design of programmes. It is about working hard and placing the interests of the people above one’s own interests. It is about fighting factionalism, resisting corruption and safeguarding public resources.


Let me conclude with the words that Madiba spoke as he said farewell to his life-long comrade, Oliver Tambo.


He said:


“Go well, my brother and farewell, dear friend.

As you instructed, we will bring peace to our tormented land.

As you directed, we will bring freedom to the oppressed and liberation to the oppressor.

As you strived, we will restore the dignity of the dehumanised.

As you commanded, we will defend the option of a peaceful resolution of our problems.

As you prayed, we will respond to the cries of the wretched of the earth.

As you loved them, we will, always, stretch out a hand of endearment to those who are your flesh and blood.

In all this, we will not fail you.”


In speaking these words, Madiba undertook on behalf of all who share this cause to dedicate ourselves to the service of the people of South Africa, Africa and the world.


Therefore, as we commemorate the passing of OR Tambo, as we reflect on his life and contribution, let us recall that we have each taken an oath as members of the ANC.


Each of us has solemnly declared that we will work towards making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people – and that we do so without motives of material advantage or personal gain.


Let us honour the legacy of OR Tambo by holding fast to that solemn oath, to bring freedom to the oppressed and liberation to the oppressor, and to bring peace to our tormented land.


I thank you.