Address by President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of the Official Opening of DIRCO’s O.R Tambo Building, 11th December 2009
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation who is the host this afternoon,
Former Deputy President of the Republic, Baleka Mbete who happens to be the National Chairperson of the ruling party, the ANC,
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Clarice Zuma,
Other Ministers who are present here,
The two Deputy Ministers of International Relations and Cooperation,
Former Deputy Minister, Mr. Aziz Pahad who was the shop steward of all Deputy Ministers during his time,
The Director-General who is the Programme Director for this occasion,
Ambassadors and High-Commissioners, who are present here this afternoon,
Other distinguished participants in this process,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Premier of Kwa-Zulu Natal, I am very happy that you could make it,
The Tambo family, our brother and sister who are with us here
I was very happy Minister that you did not say there is someone who will deliver a keynote address because I have never understood what it means. Until recently when I was Cape Town, somebody said that it means you are given a key and a note, and you must look for an address.
I am happy that the DG and the Minister have explained how this came about. Mine is a very small one. Whilst I stood with the DG and the Minister, I asked: “if you say I am giving a Political message, what is a political message?” However, mine is very simple. Perhaps it is to say what the name of this building is. I am sure we all know. Mine is to inform you what the new name of this building is and perhaps say why it was given this name and what it means to this Government, ruling party and the people of South Africa. The name of this building is the Oliver Tambo Building. That’s the name. Oliver Tambo Building, and if you prefer, you could call it the O.R. Tambo Building.
It is the only building in Pretoria named after Oliver Tambo. Something else that we know is bearing this name is our airport - note the relationship between the two.
Why was it given this name?
In the process of finding the name, the former Minister consulted, amongst others, me. Even without thinking I supported this name. There was another name that I argued very strongly for. Of course as you know, the ANC is rich with leaders - we are not running short of leaders. We could have named it after anyone of those leaders, those who are late and those who are still alive. Purely because they, at one point or the other, during the days of the struggle, led the Department of International Affairs (DIA) of the ANC. I am mentioning a few names because they were members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) whilst leading the DIA.
One of them is Comrade Josiah Jele, who once led this Department very effectively and courageously. The other could have been Johnny Makathini, many people will know him - Johnny Mfanafuthi Makatini who made such an enormous contribution. At times he was referred to as the person who almost, single-handed, isolated South Africa. He never slept. He changed tickets at airports and really worked hard. We could have been tempted to name it after him. We also could have named it after Thabo Mvuyela Mbeki, the former President of South Africa who also led this Department with distinction. Now the three names I have mentioned led the DIA, made their names and did their work very well. Thabo Mbeki worked very hard; he was one of those who could not sleep – he worked very hard. These three comrades all made an impact - but those who were thinking seriously asked what name should we give this new building.
I think there was a unanimous decision that said - we shall call it O.R Tambo. Comrade O.R. Tambo, the former President of the ANC was no ordinary leader. He was different in many ways. Those who worked with him will agree that he was a different man. The important thing about this (and I said relate this with the airport building) is that the ANC’s NEC met at the end of the 50s beginning of 60s (under the leadership of Chief Albert Luthuli) – and having scanned the political landscape, concluded that the struggle being waged inside South Africa, should now be waged equally outside South Africa. They argued that there was a need to mobilize the Continent of Africa, as well as beyond Africa to work towards isolating South Africa from the world - because it was practising a bad system called apartheid.
This conclusion was viewed by the NEC as an important conclusion that - one pillar of our struggle should be to engage the international community in every form. It was therefore decided that one of the leaders should be deployed. There was also a clear understanding that the regime then had reached a point where it would take action against the struggling people of this country and their organisation and therefore the decision was that - the then Deputy President of the ANC Oliver Tambo must be deployed outside - to lead that campaign (because the feeling was you need the most senior comrade to head the mission outside of South Africa and that therefore the President of the ANC should remain inside the country to lead the struggle inside the country, but that his deputy should lead the campaign outside. So that tells you, the weight that the ANC gave to the international campaign - that its number two must lead it.
The mission given to OR as the Deputy President then was to lead the campaign against South Africa. The only other organisation that took such a decision around the same time was the South African Congress of Trade Union (SACTU) - it did exactly the same thing - but it took that decision after the ANC and also decided that their Deputy President who was also a NEC member of the ANC, Moses Mabhida must go out and do the same. There was no other organisation. Tambo was the leader who had to go out and start a campaign from nothing to link the people of South Africa with the world - to explain our plight, our struggle but also to explain the policies of the ANC.
When he realised the enormity of the task, he asked a few people to assist. To mention one – he sent a message to the NEC, he asked Moses Kotana to join him. He started working on his own. When Madiba went to Africa, he was received by him, when he was there for a short time to be in Africa, to be in Europe, in the USA, in Asia, to be everywhere and led the campaign from that moment - so even if the other colleagues that I talked about at one point or the other led the movement - Oliver Tambo was the over all leader.
This is the mission he reported back in 1990 when he said “I have accomplished the mission you gave me”. At that time his health was not good. When he left he was fit and worked hard. Without any fear of contradiction, his life was spent in the ANC, all of it. The link between the ANC, the poor people of South Africa and the world was Oliver Tambo. He faced a lot of difficulties, as he continued his work. Humiliation, denial and those that were anti-ANC. including some who did not belong to the ANC and who left the country and actually made Tambo’s work very difficult – painting the ANC as a communist organisation not following the Pan Africanist struggle. He had to undo all that and he had to clarify the policies of the ANC. When he left, his mission was to ensure the world understood our plight and call for support of our struggle.
With regard to other aspects of the struggle, those were fought inside the country. Shortly after that, in 1961, the ANC leadership took a decision to change from a non-violent struggle to a violent one. The real struggle was now to be fought behind the banner of the people’s army – Umkhonto we Sizwe. As you know the story of Rivonia, as it happens in most struggles, leaders are captured. This is what happened in South Africa. As this happened, quite a contingent of MK were already outside South Africa and that meant that plans that had to be implemented had to be delayed. Tambo had to take leadership of the struggle inside and outside. He was charged with the task of being the Commander in Chief of the MK, and to combine this with diplomatic work, underground work and military work.
Almost in 1963 the structures of the organisation, not just the ANC, were almost undermined almost to zero. Then, OR and his colleagues who were outside had to establish the fact that the ANC externally had to be the main head of the revolution. He had to combine this, deployed his colleagues in the ANC, properly establish the NEC and deploy them in various capacities and the ANC became known, all because of OR who led the campaign. He asked for assistance, including assistance for the armed struggle. As you know, the ANC had carefully crafted its position with regard to the armed struggle. At fist we were supposed to conduct only sabotage and not take lives of people. An important aspect by the way, that saved the lives of those who were on trial in Rivonia. How the policy changed, is a long story. But critical, here was an extraordinary man, who had to do an extra task of building and maintaining the ANC across the borders of South Africa and also lead those working underground. As such he became the leader of the ANC, with no distinction whether is outside or inside – overall leader of the ANC.
As you know the leader of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, died in 1967 – and therefore OR remained the only leader of the ANC as all the others were in prison. It is during this time that OR distinguished himself as one of the extraordinary leaders. On one side convinced the world to support the struggle in South Africa, he so convinced the world that many countries established what was called anti-apartheid movements - all over the world. He created good friends, people who were ready to do anything for the support of the people of South Africa and joined forces to defeat apartheid. He united the organisation in a manner we had never seen before. These were difficult days. Those who were there will tell you. Because the days were difficult, you can’t go into a lot of details. He led this contingent of ANC leadership and its Cadres under difficult times. He had to deal with cadres wanting to come back home to fight; had to address the United Nations; the NAM - he had to be everywhere. As he did his work and linked us with the world – he earned their respect. Those who knew OR will remember that when he took the podium, people had to stop their bi-laterals, because they wanted to come and listen to OR speaking.
Whilst he was a leader of a liberation movement, he was equally recognised, almost as a leader of a particular country. Not because he came from South Africa, but because of what he did. Not just earned respect from members of the organisation, but members of the international world. Even in instances where people did not agree with our policies, they respected him. He is one South African who was given a mission to create friends for South Africa, a task he did and succeeded in. OR, at all material times, taught us to have the ANC united and have the alliance united – so that we can therefore unite the people of South Africa. He knew no colour – he was a total non-racialist. He believed in the non-racial policy that the ANC follows and taught us a great deal of it. He developed policies that had to be in tune with the changing times, and argued the case for South Africa convincingly.
I remember in one meeting in London, when both the USA and the UK Governments decided to talk to the ANC, towards the late 80s. After listening to OR, in a meeting to which me and Thabo (Mbeki) were in attendance, one Foreign Secretary said “I wonder why we didn’t meet you all the time – because now I understand the South African situation far much better – if only we had met you earlier”. When we debated the issue on the developments in Southern Africa, there was this huge pressure from the AU Adhoc Committee in Harare from the Frontline States that there had to be negotiations. Babanginda, who was head of the Nigerian Government, participated. A debate ensued on what must be done. At the end and in view of what had happened, we needed to clarify our position, as South Africans. Then OR said, whatever position we arrive at - “should reflect the views and inputs of the SADC, AU, the NAM – and that position – we should force the UN to adopt.” The question then was who was going to craft that position?
Babanginda raised his hand and said there is no other person than President Tambo. He was then given a task to craft that position. President Kaunda gave him an aircraft to consult all the Frontline States and he worked himself to the ground. He concluded that document, which was later called the Harare Declaration. The amount of energy and effort he invested in the project is what triggered his health deterioration, which was no more perfect - into a stroke. When the report was presented, it was at that time that OR got a stroke. That was his last wonderful piece of work, which took us very far, because that document began to unite the positions on what should happen in South Africa – because there was a lot of lobbying intended on dividing the forces that were supporting the struggle here.
Tambo was a wonderful man, absolutely a wonderful leader. He was a very detailed man. You could not come to OR with something wishy-washy – because he was going to question you as if you are on the witness box. Even Madiba would attest to the fact that OR paid attention to detail. One day Madiba was relating the story that when they were both still practicing law, he would attend to his queue and finish it, only to be frustrated by Tambo’s queue which was still long. Then he says that he later got to realise that when they were in court, it was OR’s notes that were being used, because his lacked detail. This man was meticulous and very clear. I still had to see who could argue with OR.
You see in the ANC, we have people that believe that they are clever – and of course they are clever. But Tambo was very meticulous, and the only person that mastered doing drafts for Tambo was Thabo (Mbeki), because it was just impossible to do a draft for him. With me, you know I have not been to school so I cannot draft. One day there was a NAM meeting in Mozambique and a message came from Lusaka that I should draft something for Tambo. We had very hard-working people like Johnny Makhathini, Josiah Jele and Thabo Mbeki – and they said they will help me draft something and I thought I was speaking very fundamental issues. It so happened that OR was not coming to attend the NAM meeting but was due to be in Mozambique to do internal work. But when people saw him at the airport, they then told him since he was around he would be the one to present a paper.
So we persuaded him to attend the conference – and he said no, because this was not his task. He then said if I knew I was going to attend this conference, I would have started preparing a draft a month ago. So he called for a draft on the conference and was presented with the one I had prepared. He looked at it and said, “do you think a President can speak on something like this” – and he put it on the side. He ended up not attending the forum because he believed that if he was due to speak, someone would have long started working on the draft. So we were defeated and Mabhida was then asked to present after my draft was chiselled out here and there. Mabhida presented it and he received a standing ovation. And I said – is it me? This tells u how particular OR was.
At times he would have a difficulty repeating a word he used in a previous speech. Now you can understand how such a meticulous man was able to lead such a massive organisation in the world, in Africa – the ANC. During the consultations of the Frontline States, he put in constitutional principles with Julius Nyerere, so that when you draft a constitution, you don’t just approach it from any angle. There must be principles that guide the process.
A wonderful leader, a father – a father to all - was paying attention to all our challenges. When he went to the camps, people knew that their problems were over. He did not listen for the sake of it; he would do something about it. When Luthuli died, he acted for a while but the day when the NEC of the movement decided he should be the President of the ANC, Tambo refused. He said there are comrades who qualify to be Presidents in this organization, not me. We forced him to tell us who those comrades are – he said you have Mandela, Sisulu and others. Just look at his humility – here he was, everybody saying you become our leader. He had the opportunity to say, thank you very much, I am now the President.
OR thought differently! He thought collectively and did not want to disadvantage comrades because they were in prison. He was content with his acting capacity and I remember telling him that in his arguments, he combined Maths, Law and English. The person who actually forced him was Mabhida. He said that the decision had been taken by the majority and you have to comply. This is a man who made South Africa to be known in the world and presented our case – and in the end everybody agreed with what had to be done in this country. OR was the first leader who was sent by the people of this country to go and represent us internationally. In a sense, he became the first Foreign Minister or Minister of International Relations and Cooperation sent by the people of this country. He did that job and completed it with flying colours and reported back – and handed back the victory back to the country. That is when he reported back to the country saying that “I have completed my mission and I am handing back to this country an organisation, big, modern – the African National Congress.”
This was the organisation that went to the negotiations. As part of our conditions on negotiations, the ANC insisted that when it negotiates, it will do that inside the country, not outside – and furthermore, under the leadership of Tambo; secondly that all political parties inside the country should be involved, even those that had been reactionary The National Party thought we were joking because they had banked on these “Homelanders”, but we brought them in and established the Patriotic Front and the National Party was left alone. Discussions went on and then Madiba came through – another unique leader with a different style – and the combination of the two was something else.
We went to elections and established a Government and then sent some of our Cadres as we did with Makhathini, Jele and Mbeki to be our Foreign Ministers. The first Foreign Minister was Nzo, then Nkosazana and after Nkosazana, it is the current Minister. Critical to this is that if we are talking about South Africa taking its rightful position in international affairs, we then have to follow in the footsteps of Oliver Tambo. It is him who paved the way, so it was fitting for the former Minister to advise that this building be named after Oliver Tambo because it tells us - who the pathfinder was. It is him who made friends and created linkages, including establishing Chief Reps of the ANC.
I believe when you leave this building to go and attend the demands of your jobs abroad, you will go with OR’s spirit. I remember that in Cabinet we used to call the former Minister, the “Minister of Foreign Things” because she was always out there. I think the current Minister is doing the same because we need people who can be there and represent South Africa. Matters internationally change very fast and you need to be quick. I do not think we will fail to do what OR expects of us and I believe many of us will utilise this building with utmost care and respect.
I want to thank the former Minister because she is the one who initiated this project, the Director-General and of course the current Minister - who I believe took it in the same spirit. Thanks to everyone who contributed, including business – you have been wonderful. Like always, South Africans have great hearts and that is why wherever they can they try to make a difference like OR did.
I Thank You.