Former apartheid-era exiles gathered at the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre in Sophiatown on Wednesday night to share their memories of working with former African National Congress leader Oliver Reginald Tambo in exile. The event, which is part of South Africa's 100-year anniversary of Tambo's birth, was organised jointly by the UK High Commission, the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation and the memorial centre.
Here are some of the most memorable tales:
- Linda Vilakazi from the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation shared a snippet about the one fear that Tambo had. Zanele Mbeki told her about an incident in exile when she was about to take OR to go and see a friend. "It was raining, and as she opened the door, a little snake slithered [across their path]. And as she turned, O.R. was nowhere to be seen, he had vanished into thin air. And she looked, and there he was, peeping behind the door, trying to check to see. And Ma' Zanele was looking for a little stick to try and whip the snake away, and they jumped into the car and it was so hard for O.R. to come out. O.R. emerged quite sheepishly. And as she was driving she thought this is a man who is so brave, who can stand up against the worst of the worst, and yet a little snake scares him."
- Lord Steel of Aikwood, former president of the anti-apartheid Movement in the UK, recalled the difference in style between Tambo and Nelson Mandela. "he was a very compelling speaker, he was an inspirational speaker, and I want to draw an interesting contrast between him and NM in speaking capacity, because NM as you know spoke very gently, very softly, very slowly, very persuasively, and Oliver Tambo was very different. He spoke, not with an African accent, but with a London accent."
- Hi son, Dali Tambo, said he had some trouble convincing his father to allow him to hang out in London pubs with his friends. His father consulted Bishop Trevor Huddleston (who was a very close family friend) and came back to tell him not to go to pubs and get drunk: "When you go to these places you will order an orange juice, quench your thirst and move on. He said 'son, why must you drink without the provocation of thirst? Surely in order to drink you must be thirsty, so finish your drink and move on.'"
- Ambassador Abdul Minty, who was honorary secretary of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, said Tambo took ages to write a speech. "He would discuss a word in ten different ways: 'What do you think this means? What do you think others will understand by that? Is that the right understanding you want?" Minty said he felt "very very sorry" for Thabo Mbeki, who was Tambo's assitant and had to do "draft after draft" of speeches.
- Gertrude Shope, a former ANC Women's League president, said Tambo had taught women to speak out and not just listen meekly: "He said we must stop talking revolutionary theories, and start revolutionary practice."
- Even now there are lasting memories of the Tambos in London's Muswell Hill where they lived in exile. British High Commissioner Dame Judith Macgregor, who is retiring this week, said: "I understand there are still many residents in the street who remember him (Oliver Tambo) as the quietly-spoken husband of the imposing and hard-working nurse (Adelaide) and three children in the house on the corner of Alexander Park Road." She said there's also an anecdote that Tambo and Nelson Mandela, during a short visit to London, mused that one day "they might just have statues in London to celebrate their activity". The rest is history.