I could not find a more apt description of this great son of our soil, Oliver Reginald Tambo:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
According to the Edmund Morris biography, in April 1910 Theodore Roosevelt railed against cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place.
“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer,” he said. “A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities — all these are marks, not… of superiority but of weakness.”
OR Tambo was a man in the arena, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement. Yes, it took more than three decades of his sweat and determination to deliver our freedom; no doubt it was a collective effort, but his leadership is what we revel in these days. Precisely because of the lack of such leadership today. He was always so astute in his analysis and his charisma was poignant.
I remember as young student activists in the 1980s how we would gather — illegally according to the apartheid regime — at certain comrades’ houses to tune into Radio Freedom, broadcasting on low frequency from Lusaka. It would be the January 8 speech from President OR Tambo. The analysis he would give with regard to the balance of forces in South Africa would be genius, as if he were in the country himself.
This would be followed by the various strategies and tactics he envisaged and then the message would culminate in the slogan/theme for the year ahead. In 1986 the theme was “The year of uMkhonto weSizwe, the People’s Army”, in 1987 it was “Advance to People’s Power”, in 1988 it was “The Year of United Action for People’s Power”.
I remember in 1989 that theme was “The Year of Mass Action for People’s Power” — in other words, make the country ungovernable. Tambo stated that she (SA) was pregnant with democracy and wants to give birth to this new child. Our task was to enable this birth. You would leave those clandestine venues with a renewed sense of commitment and vigour, knowing that you had received your marching orders for the year. Now, your task was to execute it, even if it meant arrest, detention, imprisonment, torture or death.
So, what is this leadership that we should emulate from OR Tambo? What in this current juncture can we collectively do to aid in the transformation project in our country? What must we do to also be considered as men in the arena?
For some time now, in wanting to learn from other experiences as to what to do and what not to do, we have studied the oligarchs of Russia, or in our case the Guptas and other such family units. We’ve studied what became of Lula’s revolution though spoilt chances. We’ve studied the balance between democracy and strongman politics — Kagame and Lee Kuan Yew — and have come to the realisation that these experiences do not fit our situation.
You see, thanks to OR Tambo and his vision for South Africa, we have a full-blown democracy in SA and a magnificent Constitution. But because of our democracy and Constitution, lawfare is being used by many of these forces of darkness to fight back. The CCMA is being used by them to hold on to their jobs, labour laws are being used by those that capture the state. We have a media that is also captured, bribes, slush funds, and so on. We have a citizenry that can protest and take up matters at the drop of a hat, which is of course encouraged in our democracy, which cannot happen in Rwanda and in other parts of the world.
When looking at the anatomy of the fightback forces, we see:
The intelligence service and how it is still being manipulated by some for nefarious reasons (the failing of intelligence in the recent xenophobic attacks);
The Public Protector’s Office (Lakela Kaunda in Zuma’s office nominated Busisiwe Mkhwebane) — this office has been the epicentre of the fightback campaign. Hence the four cases against Pravin Gordhan (Rogue Unit, flouting rules with the private secretary appointment, Ivan Pillay’s pension and one other) and indeed the cases against the president. Her gaining access to the financials of the CR campaign is alarming to say the least; she is not supposed to have had access to such. Which begs the question, is there possibly an infiltration at the Financial Intelligence Centre, may they also be complicit?
The EFF and Julius Malema’s cosy relationship with the public protector with regard to Gordhan. Why is Malema dabbling with Ace Magashule and other fightback elements — is this his way back into the ANC and the presidency of the Republic?
Countervailing elements are:
The Zondo commission;
Civil society alertness;
The turning of the provinces in Ramaphosa’s favour, starting with KwaZulu-Natal;
Parliament looking into the fitness for office of the public protector; and
The Magnitsky Act in the US, which allows the US government to sanction corrupt officials implicated in abuses anywhere in the world, has imposed wide-ranging financial sanctions on three Gupta brothers and their business associate Salim Essa under a law named after a Russian lawyer who died in suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.
Then there is the ANC National General Council scheduled for June/July 2020 where it is rumoured the fightback elements will try to make a stand against the president.
Given all these fronts, which the president must still fight, it means from now until then we will have a distracted president, but he will be in the arena, which is encouraging.
You see, the equivalent of events and dissent within the ranks of the then-ANC which culminated in the Morogoro Conference in 1969 came for us in the ANC at that historic moment in 2017 at Nasrec.
Just like the “Hani Memorandum”, there were those who were dissatisfied with the leadership of the ANC at the time. OR Tambo, wanting to participate as an equal in that conference concerning the issue of leadership, decided to resign his position in order to have a dialogue as equals. He was, as you know, subsequently re-elected to the position of president, but the lesson here was that individuals must not be married to their positions, not in the face of serious allegations against them.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, following in the big footsteps of ANC president OR Tambo, must provide the requisite leadership that will rid the organisation of destructive elements, because, as he said last Sunday, we cannot defend the indefensible.
Let me conclude with the last stanza of a beautiful poem by Ben Okri , Will you be at the Harvest:
Only free people can make a free world.
Infect the world with your light.
Help fulfil the golden prophecies.
Press forward the human genius.
Our future is greater than our past.”
We cannot do without a Cyril Ramaphosa at this point in our history, just as the ANC knew that it could not do without OR Tambo in 1969. Press forward the human genius, our future is greater than our past. DM
Oscar van Heerden writes in his personal capacity.
The 2016 Rio Olympic medals are already showing defects including rusting and chipping.