Adelaide Tambo had all the qualities associated with ububele — the milk of human kindness — says Dr Pallo Jordan, former minister of posts, telecommunications and broadcasting, environmental affairs and tourism, and arts and culture; chairperson of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation and editor of the book Oliver Tambo Remembered.
Jordan recalls first meeting Adelaide Tambo in exile in the early 1960s.
“I had to go to the flat in Highgate where she was living with her children. At the time, her youngest daughter, Tselani, was still a baby. She was a very busy woman, working two jobs, raising three young children and remaining politically active through solidarity work with the ANC branches in London.
“Oliver was spending most of his time in Africa and visiting only occasionally. As the wife of Tambo she was a target. You could observe that she was under a lot of stress, yet I never heard her complain.”
During her years in London, Adelaide Tambo came to be seen as a “mother” to the South African community in the UK, says Jordan.
“Whatever your station, if you went to her for help you would be sure to get assistance. And many people did turn to her for help.”
This openness also put her at risk, he says, recalling one man who insinuated himself into her circles claiming to be a journalist, but who other ANC members feared could have been an agent of the South African Secret Services.
“She was the target of all sorts of mischief,” says Jordan, “For example, there was an attempted burglary at her house. Once, her kitchen caught fire and she had to jump through the window and broke her leg.
“She would receive a suspicious phone call from a stranger wanting to meet with her. Things like this happened all the time. There was always a need for vigilance.”
Of necessity, Adelaide Tambo was a tough woman who managed her time exceptionally well, says Jordan. “She was good at delegating. And if she told you to do something, you wouldn’t argue.”
On the other hand, she was also generous.
“She was a sweet loving mother, warm, affectionate and compassionate. One saw this even more when she came home to South Africa and became very intimately involved in a number of projects to uplift the poor.”