[This open letter, authored by Zizi Kodwa, marks the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Oliver Tambo (the former president of the ANC) serves to summarize and criticize the deep corruption that now exists within the party. We feel that the points of this letter are profoundly important and must be grappled with. The following is being made available here for the purposes of education and discussion.]
Letter to President OR Tambo
Dear Comrade President,
I have no guides to ask how you are, given the enormity of the difficulties and challenges confronting your movement, the ANC. Nonetheless I thought it appropriate to write you a letter on the occasion of your centenary celebrations.
Commemorating your life and times requires of us to walk in your footsteps on the sands of time, and imagine what moulded your convictions and deep values that were to shape your leadership.
At the break of dawn, the golden glow of the warm Spring sun breathes life onto the rolling hills and valleys of Pondoland, revealing the embrace of the Engeli mountains, which shaped your life as a young boy whose dreams at the time seemed nothing more than a fleeting illusion.
Enduring the morning frost under your bare feet, as you shepherded your father’s livestock became a lifelong lesson on marshalling what was to be the revolutionary forces in the liberation struggle.
I am but a child of the revolution whose consciousness was moulded by your legacy and the values you personified in your lifelong quest to liberate your people from the bondages of oppression under colonial and apartheid rule. While we continue to draw inspiration from your life and the values you espoused, the hour is nigh for us to draw courage and wisdom from your struggles and sacrifices to do the honourable thing.
Comrade President, your lifelong dedication to the freedom of your people and your selfless commitment to the ANC remains an inspiration that future generations will celebrate long after we are all gone. The people of South Africa, joined by millions around the world celebrate your legacy and pay homage to a colossus that was larger than life, and whose leadership became a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for all the oppressed peoples around the world, from Palestine to the Sahrawi Republic to Burma.
The ANC became your life and you gave it your all, sacrificing family and your own life and placing your entire livelihood at the service of our glorious movement.
When restrictions were served by the apartheid state on Chief Albert Luthuli as president of the ANC, the leadership mandated you, as the deputy president, to provide leadership and continue to build the movement in exile. Despite the personal price you had to pay for this decision, you neither faltered nor complained.
When the president of the ANC met his untimely death under questionable circumstances, you embraced the responsibilities with diligence. Your election as president at the Morogoro conference in 1969 was a natural consequence of your sterling leadership, when leading a banned organisation was neither fashionable nor a luxury.
Your presidency that spanned three decades during the most trying period in the history of our glorious movement, inspired the revolution both at home and abroad. Your delivery of the January 8th statement smuggled into the country through various mediums, principally Radio Freedom, served as a rallying call that never failed to mobilise the masses of our people in the townships and in the trenches alike. Your leadership glowed like a lone candle in a moonless night and served as a beacon not only for our struggle but for all those who were oppressed worldwide, despite the extreme repression, killings and incarceration.
When you delivered your opening remarks at the 48th national conference in Durban in 1991, the first of its kind on home soil, you shared with the delegates a challenge your leadership faced when confronted by the brutality of the apartheid state. You said, “… the fundamental question that we then had to resolve was how to transform our Movement to meet the new situation in South Africa.”
As latter-day generations, we owe it to your great wisdom that you chose to fight to secure our future where all shall be free and equal before the law. Your choice was never driven by personal ambitions or personality cults, but by what was best for the people.
Your love for the people was far greater than any personal ambition. The question you had to answer then, those many years ago, once again requires an answer from the latter day membership of the ANC.
The challenge confronting the movement today is not a vicious apartheid state, but vultures within, who have no qualms about obliterating your legacy and sacrifice the values our glorious movement has embodied at the altar of greed and personality cults.
I am ashamed to report to you, Comrade President, that we have to answer that historic question, not in relation to external enemies, but in relation to our own, within the ranks of the movement.
The ANC January 8 statement declared 2017 “The Year of OR Tambo, Deepening Unity”. This is a clarion call to the rank and file and a reminder of how we, the living, should acknowledge and honour how you became the living embodiment of the values, principles and traditions of the entire movement.
You led the liberation movement, both at home and in the diaspora with unequalled distinction. This you did without expecting material gain, but guided by your singular commitment to serve the PEOPLE.
Comrade President, when you delivered your political report, at the 48th National Conference in 1991, you spoke frankly about the challenges our movement had to contend with during your presidency.
You made a passionate plea to those in attendance as you prepared to hand over the baton to Comrade Nelson Mandela, when you said, “… we did not tear ourselves apart because of lack of progress at times. We were always ready to accept our mistakes and to correct them. Above all we succeeded to foster and defend the unity of the ANC and the unity of our people in general. Even in bleak moments, we were never in doubt regarding the winning of freedom. We have never been in doubt that the people`s cause shall triumph.”
Comrade President, it is not my intention to be the bearer of grave news, yet somehow it has eluded those you left in charge to give you an honest appraisal of the state of the movement that you handed over to us in good health, with its unity and cohesion sacrosanct.
In 2017, Comrade President, I am saddened to report to you that your glorious movement is more divided that ever before, with some among us elevating personality cults above the unity and cohesion of the ANC. It saddens me to report that our revolutionary alliance relations are at an all-time low, with a SACP contemplating to go at it alone in the future election. This will have dire consequences for the entire alliance and undermine our march towards the realisation of the national democratic revolution that has been the glue that bound the alliance for decades.
However, the most devastating and dangerous phenomenon that has befallen us and can destroy your movement, is a growing trust deficit among our people and ANC leadership.
Comrade President, you taught us that the ANC must at all times be one with the people, and trust is an umbilical cord that binds the leadership with the people. They must never doubt the commitment of their leadership to the realisation of their aspirations, even at the worst of times. We have lost our way and have become arrogant in power.
Consequently, during the 2016 local government elections, the entire movement and our agenda to build a South Africa that is truly non-racial, truly non-sexist, democratic and prosperous, suffered a major setback, when we lost key metros to the opposition.
Your movement, Comrade President, is crying for leadership. Your country is crying for leadership that can restore confidence and inspire hope. Sadly, whenever we speak of unity, we make reference to you. Unity needs a figure head to champion it in action, words and conduct.
I report all this to you Comrade President, not suggesting that the challenges we face are insurmountable. I frankly talk about them so that you, as you convene a BGM in heaven to prepare for the 54th national conference, can look at the desperate situation of the movement you nurtured for most of your adult life.
Please Comrade President, whoever you decide to send as a delegate to preside over this conference, they must bring us wisdom, love, honesty, selflessness, hard work and guide us to re-commit to the time-tested values of our movement that once inspired the world.
One the most profound values you infused into the ANC is being a moral leader of society. This is grounded in your profoundly deep Christian values, which at times, seem to evade us.
In reconnecting with the values that have defined the unity and cohesion of our movement, we must dig deep within ourselves and allow the words of the famous hymn, “Lizalis’idinga Lakho”, penned by Rev Tiyo Soga to guide us in our quest for salvation.
We must find it deep within ourselves, to internalise these words, “Bona izwelakowethu, uxolel’ izonozalo, Ungathob’ ingqumboyakho, Luzeluf’ usapholwalo. Yala, Nkosi, singadel’imfundisozezwi lakho, Uze usivuselele, Sive inyaniso yakho.”
Comrade President, we have erred and allowed your glorious movement to falter on our watch. We are determined, however, to ensure that the upcoming 54th national conference will be another turning point, not dissimilar to Morogoro. ANC branches will engage robustly and honestly and craft a new path that will return the glory of our movement as a leader of society and a powerful vehicle towards the realisation of the dreams and aspirations of our people.
Sadly, Comrade President, contestation of leadership has become a do or die in our glorious movement due to materialism and patronage. The winner takes all contestation, grounded in slate politics, inevitably leads to relegation to the political wilderness of those who lose and a permanent loss of skilled and experience cadres to the leadership collective of the movement.
Despite your teachings, we never imagined the extent of challenges that come with state power, which some refer to as “sins of incumbency”, and the misery and disunity these would bring to the entire movement, when leadership fails. We failed to heed your wise counsel and forgot your words you uttered 40 years ago when you said, “Comrades, you might think it is very difficult to wage a liberation struggle. Wait until you are in power. By then, you will realise that it is actually more difficult to keep the power than to wage a liberation war.”
We are under no illusion that your prophetic words have come to pass and we have arrived at that defining moment when we realise that the path towards the realisation of a better life for all is littered with gorges and impassable valleys that require absolute commitment to the plight of the people.
Comrade President, on behalf of millions of ANC supporters and members, I sincerely apologise to you for the lapses in judgement that have brought us to this precipitous and perpendicular point in the life of our glorious movement. I can assure you Comrade President, the ANC remains the only weapon in our people’s hands to change their lives and remains their only hope to realise a better life.
The commitment of those of us who believe the salvation of this great revolutionary movement lies in its ability to reconnect with its time-honoured values that you personified, has never been greater.
Happy Happy Birthday Machi, Nondaba, igotywangethokazi!
Zizi Goodenough Kodwa