OLIVER REGINALD TAMBO: THE MODEST REVOLUTIONARY (1917-1993)
A Major tribute to Oliver Tambo
Iziko Slave Lodge, 20 March 2013 – March 2014
A belated – yet significant – step has been taken to acknowledge Oliver Tambo’s pivotal contribution to the freedom struggle in South Africa. Twenty years after his death, a world class exhibition will be hosted by Iziko Museums of South Africa. Imbued with historical resonance, this seminal tribute to Tambo, or “OR”, as he was lovingly known, will be launched on the eve of Human Rights Day, or Sharpeville Day as this day was previously known.
Within days of the Sharpeville shootings in 1960 in which 69 peaceful protesters were shot dead, Tambo was instructed by the ANC to leave the country to establish a Mission in Exile – a complex and exhausting task that was to last for 30 years. Entitled Oliver Reginald Tambo: The Modest Revolutionary (1917–1993), the exhibition has been produced by the Apartheid Museum, in association with the Tambo Foundation and the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA). It is presented for the first time in Cape Town at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum.
“The victory against apartheid was the work of many dedicated and committed individuals; people who selflessly sacrificed to make the ‘better life for all’ dream a reality for the people of this country. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to OR Tambo – a struggle icon and people’s hero – at the Iziko Slave Lodge. Once a space associated with inequalities– a building with a complex and often painful history;today it is a space connecting us to our past, raising awareness of issues of human rights, equality and justice.” Says Rooksana Omar, Chief Executive Officer, Iziko Museums of South Africa.
Comprehensive in its scope, the exhibition covers Tambo’s early life and education in the Transkei, his training as a teacher, the difficult choice he faced of entering politics rather than the priesthood, partnership as a lawyer with Nelson Mandela, escape to exile, unfailing determination to build the movement in a hostile world, his principled leadership of the armed struggle and championing of the isolation of the apartheid regime.
Having been elected president of the ANC after the death of Chief Albert Luthuli in 1967, Tambo is credited with being the ‘glue’ that held the liberation movement together through troubled and immensely difficult times, while Nelson Mandela and the other leaders languished on Robben Island.
The exhibition concludes with the drafting of the historic Harare Declaration, which became the blueprint of the negotiated settlement and paved the way to the birth of democracy in South Africa. Indeed, as the exhibition shows, it was his tireless and exacting personal involvement in the formulation of the Harare Declaration that led to him suffering a devastating stroke.
Finally arriving back home in South Africa in December 1990, a frail and sick man, he died on 24 April 1993, almost a year before the first democratic elections were held. Like the fabled Moses, he had led his people – but was denied entry – to the Promised Land!
While the exhibition is faithful to the historical record, it is concerned that Tambo not be lionised as a messiah, but remembered for his humanity, compassion and incorruptible integrity.
“Although he was a brilliant strategist, he never lost sight of the personal,” says Emilia Potenza, the curator of the exhibition. “He made his mark on all who crossed his path, and regarded himself as the father of all the young people who went into exile, a responsibility he took very seriously.”
Potenza illustrates the point by telling how, after the South African security forces launched a raid into Maseru in 1982, killing 42 people, most of whom were ANC members, Tambo insisted on going to the funerals and comforting the bereaved families – at great personal risk to himself.
The exhibition also highlights Tambo’s progressive attitude towards women. “He was ahead of his time,” notes Potenza. “He led by example, promoting women to senior positions and encouraging them not to shy away from challenges.”
Tambo’s story has not been told before in a popular way that talks to the youth of the country. This exhibition will begin the process of restoring this great man to his rightful place in the hearts and minds of all South Africans and future generations that are to follow.
The Iziko Slave Lodge, located on the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets, Cape Town,is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10:00 until 17:00. Closedon Sundays, Workers' Day and Christmas Day.
For more information on the exhibition, Oliver Reginald Tambo: The Modest Revolutionary (1917-1993), contact Paul Tichmann via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Emilia Potenza at email@example.com
Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town. The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage. Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure. The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium).
COMMEMORATIVE DAYS – FREE ENTRANCE (excluding Iziko Planetarium and Castle of Good Hope)
- Human Rights Day: 21 March
- Freedom Day: 27 April
- International Museum Day: 18 May
- Africa Day: 25 May
- Youth Day: 16 June
- National Women’s Day: 9 August
- Heritage Week: 21 -27 September
- National Aids Awareness Day: 1 December
- Emancipation Day: 1 December
- Day of Reconciliation: 16 December
- Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium, free only on International Museum Day and Heritage Day