The International Community That Supported OR Never Abandoned SA

Yonela Diko argues that ANC should not be too arrogant to see that the international community that was in solidarity with OR during apartheid still stands with democratic South Africa

Oliver Reginald Tambo led a remarkable life. His life is for us, the generations that would follow a lesson in history. Through every single speech he wrote, every letter he published, every long commentary he ever made, one is able to survey the journey in time – a journey of a leader travelling stormy seas and dreary spaces –  linking every occasion and every incident and finding ways to use every single step to push further into the future that beckoned.

Today, we think and speak of him with great pride and like all leaders who did not put themselves ahead of others; we have a sense of ambivalence about him too.

There is no other life of an ANC leader that illustrates the vast and fearful journey the people of South Africa had to travel for freedom. Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C on 27 January 1987 OR said: “It is our hope that in the difficult days ahead, you will stand with us, lending your intellectual excellence to the accomplishment of these objectives, and that using the power you derive from the discovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe of which all humanity can be proud”.

It is this search for international solidarity, for all the intelligent people of the world who hated racism, who hated ignorance and prejudice, to use all their might to condemn and frustrate the apartheid government and imperialists who were still strangling the life out of the continent of Africa.

OR formed lasting partnerships with the people of the world who were pushing new frontiers and creating a new world. This international work would define OR’s life. In this work, he succeeded beyond measure.

OR lived in a time, as he would say in that speech, when scientists and experts had prostituted their work into an affirmation of racial inequality, science affirming a natural allocation of talent of races, and as he prowled the corridors of world power, a colossus of immeasurable intellect. OR spoke to the world and the world listened and even as they heard and accepted the truth, OR could never let them turn their backs on the truth. This would become his everlasting legacy.

International solidarity and a fight to end racism became the two pillars of OR’s life’s work. Today, in certain parts of our country, there still lingers on some form of racial cruelty, ignorance and prejudice and this would have greatly disheartened OR – who spent 50 years of his life trying to show the folly of this ignorance.

None of these incidences, however, can take away the indisputable truth that South Africa is today a country at peace with itself marching towards the complete realization of all that OR and his equally great companions fought and sacrificed for. That today South Africa is at peace with itself and hopeful about the future is a compliment and a credit to Oliver Reginald Tambo. Despite the continuation of some vestiges of the past, we do not look into the past with cynicism. We look at it only to appreciate just how far we have come and never to forget the great man who laid it all down for our complete joy today.

In his OR Tambo lecture on Saturday, President Mbeki recommended that one needs to only read the January 8th statements that OR wrote from 1979 to 1989 to appreciate intricacies of a journey to freedom that the ANC and its leaders made at the height of racial oppression. As a young man seeking to reconnect with my past, this is something I have always done; going beyond the January 8th statements searching for every piece of work that OR did in his singular quest for liberation of our country.

What still strokes me most about these statements is how closely OR followed the events inside the country, every single act so that he was able to paint the meaning of each event. This meant OR’s spirits were always buoyant because he could see the apartheid government crumbling with each year, unable to sustain its minority driven system that kept the majority outside looking in. 

With each year, OR was able to table for our people what they should be looking for, where they could further squeeze the brutal government and signs that the Apartheid government itself was eating itself up. 

In the 1984 statement, OR told our people and the apartheid government that “the government had plunged the ruling racist clique into deeper and deeper levels of crisis” that “The only real solution lay in the victory of the revolutionary forces, the dismantling of the apartheid machinery and the transfer of political and economic power to the democratic majority”. Five years later, the apartheid government conceded.

This meant whilst OR was in front of the United Nations making yet again a clarion call for the nations of the world to squeeze the life out of the Apartheid government, or meeting the leaders of the non-aligned countries as an emissary of his country and continent, his eyes were firmly fixed on how all these events and those waged by South Africans inside the country were chipping away at the false superiority of the apartheid government. There was no chance on God’s earth that the apartheid government would survive this international solidarity against its crimes committed against our people, faced with such a relentless leader and organization.

It would later fall on Nelson Mandela to travel the world yet again to thank all the nations of the world for listening to OR, for giving him a wide audience in the name of our people, and for giving him the resources he needed to sustain the pressure against the evil system of apartheid and to keep the ANC at the front of our people’s struggle.

The ANC enjoyed great international solidarity which allowed OR to build the movement to greater heights despite the banning of our movement inside the country.

It is therefore not without cause when today, the same international community is concerned about our country. It is not because they seek to re-impose an imperial agenda or seek to influence the direction of our country. They know they can’t do that. They lived with OR and there is nothing that can change a South African’s resolve on what is good for our country.

We must however dare not treat the international community with disdain and arrogance when they stood by us at the height of oppression.

ANC is the biggest most successful most victorious liberation organization in the continent of Africa. As Churchill said, ‘in victory, we can afford to be generous, but first, we must have that victory’.

We have the victory, and I believe the International community would like us to continue to have that victory.

Diko is a media strategist and consultant




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