Report on OR Tambo Day Celebration by Hon. Mr Willies Mchunu, MPL; Premier of KwaZulu-Natal

Debate on Premier’s Report
by: Hon. Blessed Gwala; IFP MPL
Leader of IFP Caucus
Taking-Legislature-To-the-People; Umshwathi Municipality


Hon. Speaker and Hon. Members. I rise on behalf of Inkatha Freedom Party to debate the Report that the Hon. Premier, Willies Mchunu has tabled before this House. The Premier’s report is very significant since it deals with celebrations which have been going on and which are still going on, to honour the life and times of the late Mr Oliver Reginald Tambo – that giant who led the African National Congress during the days of darkness as the apartheid regime was determined, Mr OR Tambo.


The IFP fully supports the initiative taken by government to celebrate and honour the lives and contributions of our heroes and heroines for the distinct roles they played in the struggle against apartheid oppression and for the ushering in of democracy. However, we will always remind the ANC-led government that such noble celebrations lose their meaning and become involved in controversies as long as they are selective. They must embrace all those who sacrificed their time and lives for our freedom. We could not agree more with the Secretary-General of the ANC, Mr Gwede Mantashe’s sentiments he expressed recently on television in his response to the statement reportedly made by the Minister for human Settlements, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu who was apparently questioning Secretary-General Mantashe’s credentials just because Mr Mantashe had not been in exile. Mr Mantashe unashamedly rejected the notion that only those who were in exile were contributors in the struggle against apartheid.

It is such tendencies like the ones displayed by Minister Sisulu which the IFP rejects. Hence, we insist that such celebrations and honours must for every one without looking at one’s political affiliation. We also warn that the names of very significant heroes and heroines of our struggle must not be abused to further sectarian agendas against those perceived as ANC opponents. They must also not be abused by competing sections within the ANC against one another to settle factional scores.


Hon. Speaker; the first lesson I wish to focus on, which we learn from President Tambo’s life is that he did not discriminate against other forces within the broader liberation movement, either on the basis of their political affiliation or ideological positions.

History tells us that President OR Tambo’s association with Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi – President of the IFP – started in the forties when they were both part of the ANC Youth League at Fort Hare University. That association and comradeship continued even after Fort Hare. It survived even after the ANC had been banned and forced to operate from exile.

Almost each time the Prince was out of South Africa, he would meet Mr Tambo or his emissaries in places such as London, Mangoche, Nairobi, Lagos and Stockholm. Despite the differences on matters of the armed struggle and disinvestments, they maintained their comradeship and Prince Buthelezi saw himself as the cadre of the ANC. Hence when it became clear that the National Party was determined to foist the Separate Development Policy on all Africans, Tambo and Inkosi Luthuli sent a message to Prince Buthelezi through Mr Cleopas Ntsibande who conveyed the message to Prince Buthelezi through Princess Morgina – sister to Prince Buthelezi – who was married to Dr Dotwana in Soweto. The message was that – although the ANC was opposed to the NP policy – they wanted to urge Prince Buthelezi not to resist when he was elected into the KwaZulu Government structure. That, in their view, would serve as a strategy to frustrate the apartheid regime and abort their policy. As a cadre of the ANC, Prince Buthelezi submitted to the directives of his leaders.

The association of the two continued even when Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe (National Cultural Liberation Movement) was founded. Prince Buthelezi felt obliged to consult with Mr Tambo about the idea of forming a membership-based organisation. President Tambo agreed.

President Tambo demonstrated his mature leadership even in the face of criticism and attacks from some among his comrades who berated him for his association with Prince Buthelezi. History knows that in 1978 a group of ANC leaders – popularly known as ANC 8 – dis-associated themselves from the ANC. Among the reasons of their separation from the organisation, was their unhappiness with President Tambo’s continued association with Prince Buthelezi.

As historical proof of these cordial and comradely relations, allow me to quote from a letter which the then President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, wrote to Prince Buthelezi in November 1989 where he said:

“Oliver Tambo and I have discussed the problems of apartheid naturally on many occasions, but I do not remember, not even once, him speaking against you either in public or in private.”

The lesson President Tambo taught us was that we were a broad family of organisations united in the struggle against apartheid and that we had to ensure that there was unity within the broader liberation movement. This is the lesson Tambo still teaches this current leadership.

It is against this background that we in the IFP hold the position and are certain that – had President Tambo returned home in good health, and, had God allowed him to live many more years until he crossed the Jordan into the democratic South Africa – the long-standing unfinished business between the IFP and the ANC would have been settled by now. The two organisations would today operate as one completely reconciled family committed to cooperating in doing the best for South Africa.


Hon. Speaker; President Tambo’s life reminds us that the duty of leadership is to serve humanity and not to use leadership to enrich themselves. His life in exile was lived to serve the people of South Africa and to ensure that the greater task of overthrowing apartheid was accomplished. He could have chosen to forget about the struggle and the oppressed and instead pursue personal interests abroad.

Indeed, all leaders of integrity who were part of that generation of self-less servants of the people, lived every minute for the struggle for freedom. Today South Africa is crying out for such leadership of integrity. Today leadership is seen as a vehicle towards self-fulfilment. The IFP firmly believes that – if South Africa had just ten such leaders – we would have managed by now to take very visible and significant strides towards complete liberation where all South Africans would taste the fruits of freedom. If we were to count millions of rands that have been embezzled by those in positions of political and administrative leadership we would discover that the country could have been able to deal successfully many of our current challenges. Unfortunately, some among those who shout the loudest about loyalty to Tambo have embezzled public funds with impunity. This shames President Tambo and all heroes and heroines who gave up their days for our liberation.


What other lesson can we glean from President Tambo’s life? It is that his life was a clear demonstration of the fact that no amount of domination, oppression, hunger and poverty can blight the human spirit determined to change their circumstances. Tambo, like many of his Comrades and fellow-freedom fighters, was born and bred in a rural set-up. Those who know something about colonial and apartheid oppression, will tell that rural areas were the areas worst hit by the ruthlessness of colonialism and apartheid. Up until the present, rural areas still carry glaring scars of the wounds inflicted by colonialism and apartheid.

However, President Tambo like his contemporaries – such as President Nelson Mandela, President Pixley ka Isaka Seme, President Dr Dube, President Inkosi Luthuli; as well as leaders such as Prince Buthelezi – all grew up in rural areas. But they did not allow terrible conditions and abject poverty under which they grew up, to imprison their spirits. They extricated themselves and moved forward to achieving personal development and to using opportunities available to them to help liberate their people.

They left a lesson which is very relevant to the youth of today and South Africans in general. That no mountain is too high; no river is too deep; no sky is too high; no night is too dark for any person to strive and reach their goals. From his grave Tambo still issues a clarion call to all people of South Africa – especially the formerly oppressed – that they must not wait for the manna to fall from heaven because the manna was only meant for those who were in the wilderness.

President Tambo, like his contemporaries, did not keep quiet and fold his arms as those who were in power moved our beloved country towards the bottomless pit. Likewise, he shouts to all South Africans that we must not tolerate any form of abuse of power, any use of state resources for self-enrichment. He says South Africans must use their power of the vote to remove from power any leader or government that view themselves as leading or ruling by divine providence. He shouts that we must use our power to overthrow anyone – regardless of credentials – the moment they view themselves as bosses rather than servants of the people.

Hon. Speaker, unless we heed these lessons; unless we commit ourselves to going back to learn and keep in our hearts the lessons of this great servant of our people; no amount of time and resources spent in celebrating President Tambo will be of any value.


Our debt to President Tambo all heroes and heroines and the only lasting honour we can give President Tambo is to lead with humility, to strive for a united and reconciled South Africa and to strive to rescue all our people from the dungeons of unemployment, crime, lawlessness, poverty and ignorance.

May KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa produce many OR Tambos for the sake of our country and its future generations.