An epitome of leadership

OR Tambo led the ANC from exile, but didn’t claim enough credit for his leadership, says Sanral chief executive Skhumbuzo Macozoma.

OR Tambo led the ANC from exile, but didn’t claim enough credit for his leadership, says Sanral chief executive Skhumbuzo Macozoma.

South African liberation icon Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo constantly deferred recognition to others, in spite of his status as ANC president and his lifetime of work towards creating a South Africa, where all, regardless of race, colour and creed, could stand side-by-side to build a nation.

But Tambo cannot avoid the legacy of being one of the fathers of the Constitution. He continues posthumously to act as an example to such captains of industry as Skhumbuzo Macozoma, chief executive of Sanral, who believes Tambo worked so hard that he died prematurely — his death in 1993 meant he did not see his efforts culminate in South Africa becoming a true democracy.

“Reflecting on the attributes of OR Tambo the man and his personality is an emotional issue for me,” said Macozoma, “especially considering what is happening now with the challenges of getting people to work together. I believe that if he was still here, some of his qualities would have brushed off, and I believe he would have wanted to see them upheld.
We have to see how we can try and bring these qualities back.

“Acknowledging Tambo is being done at the right time and the media needs to be thanked for putting it out there. It is so important to inform the nation of the qualities of this person. I would be happy if I could live to be half the man he was.

“He had such amazing humility, rooted in the way he grew up in a village in the Eastern Cape. A rural upbringing really shapes you as to what you become as a human being. His incredible values were partly because of his upbringing, but were also developed by the challenges he endured.

“He went from dealing with the injustices he was born into to creating opportunities working with statespeople internationally. This shaped him into understanding the nature of the human being.”

Tambo faced many injustices, but he believed that he could change this injustice, and used every avenue presented to him to do this.


Macozoma believes the attributes that made Tambo such a great leader and politician include learning to genuinely engage with people and pursuing excellence in everything he did. “He never took time to rest. He believed in hard work, and that is the man I have come to know.

“What I really admire was that he constantly made so many sacrifices, and I think he understood and had knowledge of delaying gratification, as you would want your kids to know. He also knew [about] the bigger ideal and we all have to learn to celebrate that ideal and that achievement. He put the common cause of national democratic revolution ahead of his own family.

“He forever refused to be recognised as ANC president, always deferring this to Madiba, and kept on making this statement. He understood that stability was absolutely essential for credible local and global party recognition and sustained resistance against their enemies. He did a lot to keep the organisation together, despite the adversity surrounding competition for positions, bad behaviour and funding problems.

“He also understood that until all the people of South Africa were liberated, there would never be stability and never could we reach our full ability as a country.”


Macozoma also commented on the way that Tambo managed to hold things together as a man under constant pressure for so many years: “Tambo had amazing perseverance. It was not easy leading the ANC for 30 years [all the while] not knowing where his family’s food would come from.

“What made him a true leader was that he was not afraid to accommodate new young leaders coming up through the ranks and was able to understand their energies — and there were many, such as Thabo Mbeki, for whom he made a place. He understood consultative leadership, which he learned from Chief Albert Luthuli, and from his upbringing he understood the importance and position of the tribal chief. He knew people would be more accepting of decisions if their voices were being heard.”

Macozoma holds a master’s degree in civil engineering, inspired by Tambo, the mathematician and science teacher. “It has always fascinated me why he took up maths and science. Tambo said that there are not many people doing maths and science, and said that Africans struggle with these subjects and tend to avoid them, and that was one of the reasons he did it — and did it cum laude.”

Sanral is extremely proactive, with a number of programmes in different provinces to promote and assist communities with maths and science through multiple learner, teacher, school, university and family programmes. The primary objectives of these programmes are to demystify these subjects and raise skills levels and understanding.

“His attitude was that if you are going to do something, make sure you excel in it. Then he took up law because he could see people needed law. Next, he took up theology. I cannot believe one man would have such diverse occupations, and it is amazing he did this in his lifetime.

“Like him, I also prescribe to consultative leadership. I want people to share their views and I have never felt threatened by competition from other people. I need to channel them and inspire them to replace me, and be open, so I can assist them.

“The days of occupying a position for 25 or 30 years are gone. Your stint as a leader needs to be relatively shorter now, and you need to create a pool of people to replace you.  He gave that quality to Thabo Mbeki and also to many others — the ability to appreciate the importance of preparation.

“If right now I was given the opportunity to speak to Oliver Tambo, I would really want to ask him how he would entrench the ideals and drive to benefit the majority in today’s world of capitalist ideas and the general disposition to accumulate as much as possible; how to balance opposing perspectives.

“Many people think it important to amass assets and resources for themselves, but it would be better to have more people in lower-level communities leading comfortable lives than having a handful of rich people.”


“I would ask him what we should focus on as Africa so that we can enable development and growth. We need to focus on tilt and what we need to do to ensure that we can get on a different trajectory. I also believe that he would be intensely curious as to why the Eastern Cape has lagged behind in development, and how we could unlock the potential and energy in this province.”

Macozoma mentioned that part of the focus on the commemorative events that will happen this year is to celebrate Tambo the internationalist, statesman and traveller. “He had to journey to all corners of the world and carry the flag when the ANC was in its darkest times. He had to criss-cross the globe, speaking to different platforms. It is a fitting tribute to this leader and ambassador for South Africans that OR Tambo airport is named after him, as it is the gateway to Africa, and a world class airport.”

“With relevance to Sanral and the connection between a major airport and the country’s highways, the role of transport infrastructure in its entirety is to achieve access to the country, provide mobility and guarantee connectivity. The roads around OR Tambo carry the largest traffic volumes in South Africa, so we must ensure these roads meet the objectives of motorists: spending the least amount of time getting to their destinations. We must also meet economic growth and community development requirements,” he concluded.

About Sanral

The South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) is an independent, statutory company registered in terms of the Companies Act. The South African government, represented by the minister of transport, is its sole shareholder and owner. Sanral is responsible for the country’s economic arteries and its mandate is to finance, improve, manage and maintain the national road network. The company introduced and consolidated the concept of public-private partnerships that culminated in the internationally acclaimed Maputo Development Corridor. 

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