By Tiisetso Makhele
Today marks exactly 104 years since the birth of an excellent freedom fighter, a Teacher, a lawyer, a volunteer, an organic intellectual and a unifier, President Oliver Reginald ‘OR’ Tambo. It was on a Saturday when the Eastern Cape’s village of Nkantolo birthed a son, who would grow up to be a real warrior against the oppression of the native Blacks.
Both his parents passed on due to illness, and this made him yearn to be a medical doctor. At school, he would be great both in his studies and in sporting activities. He became one of the first two Black scholars to pass the JC examination with fist class (1936).
Though he wanted to study medicine, he was prohibited by the Apartheid arrangement, since no Blacks were allowed to enrol in that field. He then opted to study the sciences at Fort Hare University. He graduated with a B.Sc. Degree in Mathematics and Physics, and later studied towards a higher education diploma.
Whilst a Secretary of the SRC, President Tambo mobilised fellow students to rebuild and unutilised tennis court on campus. The purpose was to use this tennis court to pass time on Sundays. The university management refused the usage of the tennis court of Sundays, citing reasons of religion. The students embarked on open disobedience with the authorities, and this led to the expulsion of President Tambo from varsity.
After his expulsion, he tried to seek employment, but was rejected due to his ‘tainted’ record, thanks to his expulsion. He refused to give up, and was later given a teaching post at St. Peter’s, his former school in the Transvaal.
In the late 1940’s, President Tambo enrolled for a course in law, and would study through correspondence. During the same period, the National Party got into power (1948) and a flurry of discriminative laws against natives were birthed. He then played an instrumental role in the development of a Programme of Action for the ANC Youth League.
When the ANC President General Dr AB Xuma was not in support of this belligerent Programme of Action, the youth resolved not to support his re-election. President Tambo and late Mohlomphehi Ntsu Mokhehle (later Prime Minister of Lesotho), then resolved to engage Dr. JS Moroka to stand as President of the ANC, and the document was adopted by conference. The rest, in terms of the militancy of the ANC post this, is history.
As a human rights lawyer, President Tambo was known to have unparalleled patience and compassion, and would spend a lot of time with each client. He dealt with many cases that involved blacks being evicted from their homes or lands. One of President OR Tambo’s cases was a dispute among the Bafokeng people over land rights in Rustenburg, (now North West Province). Thanks to his sound knowledge of customary law, he successfully concluded the case to the satisfaction of all affected parties.
He was a strong internationalist, and a unifier, who served as a glue for the ANC in its 30 years of exile. His love for the ANC motivates many of us who, despite the frustrations we have about the party and its leadership, we will never desert it.
In honour of President Tambo, I will be voting for the ANC this year, as I have done since 1999, the first time I was eligible to vote. I will vote for the ANC with the understanding that it is an organization that carries the hopes of millions of South Africans, as well as our posterity. I have no doubt that, working together with our people, the ANC will build better communities.
Makhele is an African Marxist and a member of the ANC in Mangaung Region, Free State. He writes in his personal capacity
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