Celebrating a selfless leader

OR Tambo would have been 100 this year, and this presents a pefect opportunity to reflect on his example, says Linda Vilikazi. (Photos: Nationaal Archief NL, courtesy Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation)

OR Tambo would have been 100 this year, and this presents a pefect opportunity to reflect on his example, says Linda Vilikazi. (Photos: Nationaal Archief NL, courtesy Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation)

This year offers South Africans a rare opportunity to understand Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo up-close, according to Linda Vilakazi, chief executive of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation.

Had he lived, the former ANC president and internationally acclaimed struggle icon would have turned 100 this year.

“The year 2017 is special to us — and everyone in South Africa. It is also an amazing opportunity to propel the growth of the foundation. Our mandate is to preserve the legacy of OR and Adelaide.

“Adelaide was an activist in her own right and was committed to the ANC and her family. They had a home in London and it was always hive of activity, with ANC activists visiting the family or passing through London,” said Vilakazi.

While it has limited financial human resources, the foundation will embark on several activities and events to commemorate the centenary of Tambo’s birth in the remote village of Nkantolo, near Bizana in the Eastern Cape.

This will include various dialogues and events that will be held throughout the year on International Teachers Day and Youth Day, among others, and the Nelson Mandela Lecture. The foundation will also use the OR Tambo Narrative Centre, archives, exhibitions, book launches, documentaries, poetry and films to promote his memory. Other activities to celebrate his legacy are the OR Tambo Annual Memorial Lecture, Adelaide Tambo Day, a choral music festival and the annual Tambo walk.

About the Foundation

“We have been working on the preservation of OR’s legacy for the past six years with very limited resources but we have done so much in keeping his memory alive. We depend on donor funding and appreciate whatever little we receive from funders. We currently have a ten-member board and a staff of three at the foundation — the CEO, administrator and the project coordinator,” Vilakazi said.

“We are currently in the process of re-engineering ourselves and making sure there is compliance, financial audits and corporate governance in general … Our work and role requires resources. We define our work through our three pillars: to preserve promote and preserve the legacy of Tambo, learn from and apply their values and skills in meeting today’s challenges. Secondly, we collaboratively develop strategies for solving long-standing, intractable problems. Our last pillar is about building the human capacity to promote development.”

Learning from Tambo

Vilakazi said the leadership lessons that can be learnt from Tambo remain profound.

“OR was a selfless leader who sacrificed so much. As a foundation the centenary offers us an opportunity to share his life and legacy, frankly and in detail,” said Vilakazi this week.

“I have never met him, but he stands out as one of the best leaders our country has ever produced because of his humility and love for people. When people and structures of the movement approached him to become the president of South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC, he declined and said everyone must support Nelson Mandela as the president of the ANC. He was very humble. You could miss him in the crowd because he was not glamorous and hated the cult of personality. He listened intensely to people and he was very inclusive. He believed that all men were inherently good. People got drawn to him because of his ability to listen to everyone. He was an exceptionally diligent person.”

“He paid attention to detail. His speech writers tell us how he would go through drafts and drafts of his speech before finally approving it. The meaning of a single word was discussed over and over again until its meaning was understood. Thabo Mbeki and people like Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi can attest to this. That’s what made him popular. People naturally got drawn to him.”

Leadership today

Vilakazi said the current leadership challenges were worsened by the fact that South Africans have lost their activist character and the “sharpness” of the 80s.

“We are frozen in time. I agree with advocate Ramatlhodi that the biggest mistake the movement after 1994 [made] was to demobilise everything and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world including people who supported our struggle in Africa, Asia, the US and Europe. We have abdicated everything to the government,” said Vilakazi.

She said the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation was in the process of embarking on a world tour to eight countries in an attempt to reconnect South Africa with the rest of the world in what has been dubbed the International Thank You Tour. The foundation is closely working with the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) to support this initiative.

The tours will include London (to be addressed by Dali Tambo), Chicago, (Zeph Makhetla), Lusaka (Brigalia Bam), Dar es Salaam (Albie Sachs), Lagos (Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe), Moscow (Sophie de Bruyn), Stockholm (Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza) and Regio Emilio, Italy (Anthony Mongalo).

“We came up with the eight countries because these are some of the countries that supported Mr Tambo and the ANC without fail. We would like to go back to them and say ‘thank you for your support’. They sacrificed a lot for us, including sovereignty,” said Vilakazi.

“We see this as an opening of the relations with the world and reconnecting them with the spirit of OR. He might have passed on but his legacy lives on.”

Solutions to current problems

Vilakazi said the foundation was excited about the Mail & Guardian Critical Thinking Forum as it goes a long way to assist in finding solutions to current problems.

“We are also working with the youth of our country to develop them and offer internships to graduates. In Nkantolo, we are currently involved in maths and science programmes at the local technical high school. We have engaged corporate to support us in this initiative. Our dream is to build a better school, including two others in the area — Qobo and Nkantolo Primary Schools,” said Vilakazi.

Vilakazi is an alumnus of the University of Witwatersrand, a qualified teacher, whose passion and love for education remained central throughout her work life, even long after she left the classroom.

She later worked for the Education Development Trust, the Young Women’s Network, Thebe Investment Corporation, the CSIR, the African Leadership Group, the City of Johannesburg and the Wits School of Education, where she founded the Executive School Leadership Programme, with over 820 school principals graduating from the programme.

Vilakazi successfully completed a number of certificate courses at Wits Business School and studied the art of leadership at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

She is a visiting associate at the Wits School of Education, an Aspen Institute fellow, a UN award winner (Unifem), chairs the Thebe Foundation board of trustees, is a trustee of the Telkom Foundation and SAIDE and is a member of the Johannesburg Rotary Club.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele

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