As delegates gathered for the ANC’s 5th National Policy Conference they did so under the watchful eye of party forebears. By PUSELETSO NTATHE and CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
Former ANC president OR Tambo’s son had a vision when he visited his father where he is buried, one that would bring the struggle stalwart back to life.
“I went to see my father at his grave, and in talking to him as we do subconsciously, I suggested to him that we do a statue.
“He later communicated to me that I should not only do it of him, but for the rest of the leaders as well,” said Dali Tambo, who founded the Adelaide and Oliver Tambo Foundation Exhibition.
Tambo said the seed was originally planted when he was doing a documentary series on the ANC from the wars of dispossession all the way through to 1994, and after the “chat” to his father, he spent another couple of years putting the concept together.
The result is that statues of Tambo senior, his wife Adelaide, and other 37 others – from Shaka kaSenzangakhona to Nelson Mandela – have been keeping watch next to the main plenary hall at the Nasrec Expo Centre over proceedings of the ANC’s national policy conference for the past six days.
There are also Ruth First and Joe Slovo, Rahima Moosa, Charlotte Maxeke and Pixley Ka Seme. Fidel Castro waves a Cuban flag at passersby while Solomon Mahlangu, AK47 hanging at his side, stretches his arms overhead.
Tambo said he loved the youth and defiance in the latter one.
Each of those on display should resonate with the attending delegates, but would they have been proud? The conference was characterised by deep splits in the ANC, and it has also seen the discussion of a report on corruption, state capture, and just generally an arrogant party drifting away from the people.
Tambo said he couldn’t put words into his father’s mouth on the current state of the party, but he said:
“My father was a serious intellectual who analysed situations very carefully before addressing them. I believe he speaks now through what he left us with – his morals, ethics, and his commitment to the struggle and the betterment of the life of the people.”
Gazing skyward, he joked:
“I am sure he is out there with the other ancestors, probably having their own policy conference as they try to send us signals through their value systems. I am sure his comment would be: ‘get back on track, fulfil your mission, and uphold the ethical moral standing of our movement’,” said Tambo.
It was hoped the statues would inspire delegates participating in the conference and remind them what these leaders stood for, Tambo said.
The individuals immortalised in bronze were fashioned from photographs by various artists and represent several generations of leaders.
Many of our iconic leaders from different phases of the struggle are not part of the public memory, Tambo said.
“There is only the memory of Madiba’s generation and it is the only thing that is concentrated on,” he said, adding that the project also commemorated numerous leaders who were not in the ANC, such as Robert Sobukwe and Helen Suzman.
Tambo’s favourites, besides the statues of his parents, are those of Joe Slovo and Ruth First. “They are one of my favourites simply because they tell a story of family commitment. You know we talk of the movement as a family. They showed us that we should not stop at anything and stay committed to the struggle.”
Tambo plans to have about 500 statues made, with 94 already sculpted.
Tambo worked with ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, who is also in charge of the party’s archive sub-committee, to bring the exhibition to the conference.
Photo: Dali Thambo with Baleka Mbete at the Policy Conference. (Ihsaan Haffejee)
Mbete said the leaders came alive quite vividly in the life-size sculptures even more than they did in photographs. She “was quite fascinated by the statue of Shaka and his red eyes” and loved the way national executive committee member Thoko Didiza took photographs of her standing next to a statue of her grandfather, who was also a struggle stalwart.
At the end of the conference, the statues will be taken back to Fountains Valley in Pretoria where they form part of a permanent open-air exhibition. DM
Photo: A delegate poses with the statue of Solomon Mahlangu. (Ihsan Haffejee)