Dali Tambo in defence of the Constitution and ANC veterans

The ANC leadership has a responsibility to espouse the same type of principled and moral leadership that defined the movement’s former president, Oliver Reginald Tambo, and his peers. But it should also stay the course of constitutional democracy and respect its veterans, the liberation struggle hero’s son, Dali Tambo, told the Mail & Guardian.

Tambo curated the Long Walk to Freedom and OR Tambo exhibitions at the party’s policy conference at Nasrec in Soweto on Tuesday. The bronze statues feature the likes of Solomon Mahlangu, OR Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu and Lillian Ngoyi, among other anti-apartheid activists who helped overthrow the National Party regime.

But the statues represent more than the memory of those who fought for freedom, Tambo said, saying that the current leaders have a historical responsibility.

“We needed to be united and highly principled, and maintain our moral leadership of society. Those people represented by those statues gave us that moral leadership. And so we can’t diminish that in any way,” he said on Tuesday.

Tambo said he had witnessed “honest and open reflection” at the policy conference and heard “hard-hitting” debates that will “hopefully lead to a united movement that says ‘we’ve made mistakes, let’s fix them and, for God’s sake, let’s go forward’ ”.

Tambo’s father crafted one of the first drafts of South Africa’s Constitution while in exile in Lusaka. But this week President Jacob Zuma questioned the value of that Constitution when he said that in a constitutional democracy, the judiciary appears able to undermine the majority view.

Tambo said that whereas changes to the Constitution were not abnormal, the foundation laid by his father should not be eroded or disregarded.

“The United States and other countries have made many along their path, but the changes must be fit for purpose. Yet at the same, I think the tenets of our democracy are sacrosanct and we can’t willy-nilly dismiss them,” Tambo said.

“They were kind of set in a form of stone, but even stones can be moved.”

The artist and media personality defended the veterans, whom Zuma pitted against the branches during his opening address and whose legitimacy and loyalty to the ANC the president questioned.

Tambo said he believed the veterans who called for a consultative conference had pure intentions.

“We must take their integrity as a given. They love this movement, they’ve given their lives for it. So I don’t question their motives, I believe their motives are pure,” he said, urging the current leadership to continue negotiations with them and attempt to resolve the impasse.

“I hope they’ll find a way to really get into a room, beat out their problems, beat each other up if necessary, but for the sake of the movement come back and be a united force,” Tambo said.

“The [veterans] stand, as do the statues, as a generation whose time has passed but is still relevant and is still an educative force for the rest of us,” he concluded.

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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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