Tambo family members disgusted with the ANC, grandniece switches to EFF

One scion of the family of venerated ANC leader Oliver Reginald Tambo has endorsed the Economic Freedom Fighters ahead of the local government elections. Others in the family have expressed their disgust with the ANC — and even the remaining ruling party supporters among the clan say nostalgia for what the party once was is all that keeps them in the fold.

Tambo’s Nkantolo homestead in the Eastern Cape municipality of Mbizana is now in the custody of the two sons of Gertrude Tambo, OR’s sister, who died in 2014.

Zukiso and Vumile Tambo live a humble life in the same house where their uncle stayed when he returned from exile. They said that, although they love “OR’s ANC, the ones that are in charge now, from councillors to the top, are doing wrong things”

In Bizana town, Toysie Tambo, the granddaughter of OR’s eldest brother, Willie, lives in a rundown RDP house. She is unemployed and speaks blatantly of her disgust with the ANC, and is convinced her family in the former Transkei homeland has been forgotten by the state.

“After exile, OR came here and promised to help us but it looks like it’s in vain. I’m not interested in the ANC because we are still suffering. In Europe they know OR, but here we are forgotten. I’m actually sick and tired … The ANC lied,” she said, sitting in her living room, and repeatedly glancing over at a small cast-iron bust of OR Tambo, prominently placed next to the television set.

The charismatic Tambo led the ANC from exile through its most difficult years when the organisation was banned. He is credited with convincing Western leaders to impose economic and social sanctions on the apartheid regime.

He was also instrumental in forging the yet-unbroken alliance between the ANC and the formerly progressive forces in Soviet Russia, Latin America and the Middle East, which provided financing and military training for Umkonto weSizwe guerrilla fighters.

Toysie is herself a former activist and said her name is recorded in the Bizana police station’s 1977 register, where she was held after taking part in the student uprisings against the apartheid state. She vividly recalled how the security police harassed her mother and siblings when she was a child in the 1960s, hoping they would disclose Tambo’s whereabouts.

Turning red: Toysie Tambo, grandniece of ANC stalwart Oliver Tambo. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

“Sometimes they came to beat us, shouting: ‘Where is OR?!’ Sometimes you could hear helicopters outside in the village,” she said. Despite the repeated beatings, they never gave in.

At 57 years old, Toysie does not yet qualify to receive a pension and instead relies on her daughter, who sends her money from Durban. Toysie believes that, in the same way that Tambo spoke out against the injustices of the apartheid regime, the self-styled commander-in-chief of the EFF, Julius Malema, is speaking truth to power against the “corruption” of the current regime.

“I’m endorsing [the] EFF now and will vote [for] them because they show South Africa the truth. It’s because of Malema. I like that boy. He didn’t hide things and the ANC said don’t talk like that, because their pockets are full,” she said. Although Zukiso and Vumile are not interested in the red berets, they spoke openly about their sense of betrayal by the current crop of leaders in the governing party.

“I love the ANC of OR and used to vote for OR, not for [President Jacob] Zuma,” 57-year-old Zukiso said. “I think OR’s ANC is still alive but other guys in charge are doing many bad things. The ANC must do something to respect OR and build Nkantolo [vil- lage] like those guys built Nkandla.”

Both men live with their wives and children, and both families rely on the R2 500 monthly salary Zukiso has received from the municipality since 2011. “Never less, never more,” he said while sitting outside his uncle’s garden of remembrance in Nkantolo, where he is employed as a caretaker.

But there’s been nothing to take care of since October last year when the OR Tambo craft centre was burned down during a community protest. Since then fewer than 10 people have visited the site. Sitting at the entrance of the centre, wearing the recognisable government-orange work trousers, Zukiso and his friend claim the protest was co-ordinated by villagers angry with their ward councillor over crime and a lack of development in the area.

The discontent with the ward councillor among villagers is something Zukiso’s younger brother, Vumile, can relate to. He, like many other villagers, is unemployed and tends to the Nkantolo homestead’s few dozen sheep and chickens each day. “I support the ANC because of veterans like OR, [Walter] Sisulu and [Govan] Mbeki,” he said. “But others have their own mission, ward committees and councillors. They are the problem.

“The ANC is an organisation with vision but they don’t have the same vision [that OR and others had]. They only wear ANC colours.”

Both brothers said they would remain ANC supporters until they die, but refused to say whether they would campaign to convince villagers to vote for the party in the upcoming elections. They simply shook their heads and looked away into the distance.

“I’m not happy, but I can’t abandon OR’s party,” Vumile said hesitantly after being pushed for an answer.

The villages in Mbizana municipality have not all been forgotten by the state. Relatively new RDP houses have been built alongside long-standing rondavels and 50-year-old Vumile admitted that gravel roads were being developed across the rolling hills where once there used to be only footpaths.

From the outside, the brothers’ tale of a struggle to live in dignity is belied by their homestead. Nkantolo features a visitors reception area, guest houses and the big house in which the families stay. But there is almost no furniture in the houses and hardly enough money to stock the cupboards and refrigerator with anything other than bare essentials.

The family has also taken “ownership” of the garden of remembrance, a multimillion-rand department of arts and culture project. But since 1998 only the foundation has been dug out and a braai area built.

“It’s a waste. The grass is long and it’s dirty now. If they finish the project I don’t think they would be able to use the material that’s been standing here for so many years,” Zukiso said.

Zukiso told the Mail & Guardian he was speaking out in the hope that someone would notice their plight and intervene to restore the standing of the Tambo clan in the Bizana community for the sake of their children.

Zukiso said his daughter would have to stay at home if she fails to secure funding from the National Students Financial Aid Scheme for tertiary education. Toysie’s son also faces being excluded from the Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha for financial reasons.

Contacted for comment, OR Tambo’s son, Dali, who lives in a fancy house in the upmarket suburb of Saxonwold in Johannesburg, said: “Yes, they must vote ANC. They are Tambos. They are part of the ANC family. The sun will shine on them. Hold on. Change is coming.”

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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