Vandalising the memory of OR

2014-11-04 06:55

Late at night on October 19, arsonists set fire to the OR Tambo Garden of Remembrance in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.

The pictures that were published of what remained of the buildings were heartbreaking. The museum was not a fancy structure; it consisted of a couple of rondavels and a bronze statue.

The rondavels were home to precious memorabilia celebrating the life of the late ANC leader. The simple museum, which was opened in 1996, was a source of pride for the community of Tambo’s birth home.

It is being speculated that the attack came about because residents of a neighbouring village were jealous and angry that development in Tambo’s home village was taking place at a much faster pace than in theirs.

Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle was quick to condemn the stunt, saying such acts “spit on and besmirch our history and our leaders”.

In an environment in which violent protests are a daily occurrence, an incident such as this one should not have captured headlines.

But this was no ordinary torching. This was a memorial to Oliver Reginald Tambo, the man who led the ANC from 1969 to 1990.

While the Nelson Mandelas and Walter Sisulus were languishing in jail, it was Tambo who led the fight against apartheid.

He held together an organisation whose exiled members spanned across the globe and belonged to different ideological strains. His stroke in late 1989 was due to his tireless work.

In the ranks of the ANC, you will find many who will whisper about Mandela’s weaknesses – be it about his leadership or his less than spotless private life.

But about Tambo and Sisulu, you will never hear a single negative word. Such is the reverence for the two men, but particularly for Tambo, who had ample opportunity to make mistakes outside the walls of prison.

Former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe summed up the measure of the late leader when delivering the OR and Adelaide Tambo Memorial lecture last week.

“His humble yet inspiring presence invested his person with a rare halo of respectability. Universal consensus within and outside the ANC, nationally and internationally, largely converges on one point: that OR was a moral leader.”

Motlanthe spoke about how Tambo never sought out personal glory and never highlighted his personal sacrifices.

To this end, “he ensured that Nelson Mandela’s name occupied pride of place every time South Africa was in the spotlight”, led the campaign to make Mandela the “human face” of the struggle and “helped turn Mandela into a global icon”.

In painting a picture of a leader who was the epitome of integrity, humility and selflessness, Motlanthe appealed to the current generation of South Africans to preserve his legacy.

“Such legacy would be denuded of essence and rendered meaningless if the political descendants of OR today fail to continue the leadership he espoused with such clarity.”

It is a call worth heeding because the signs that we are denuding that legacy are glaring.

While Masualle is correct to angrily condemn the vandalisation of the memorial, it is the vandalisation of the legacy of Tambo that he and other leaders should be incensed about.

Coming hot on the heels of the scandal of politicians siphoning off money that was meant for Mandela’s funeral arrangements, the vandalism of the museum shows us that nothing is sacred in this land. It was a physical manifestation of just how sick this country has become.

As Tambo’s birthday was celebrated last week, the party he led so nobly was busy rubber-stamping the greatest cover-up in democratic South Africa.

Parliament’s ad hoc committee on Nkandla shut the case on the need for President Jacob Zuma to account for the expenditure of R246?million of public money on his private home.

Their excitement at having defeated the opposition was akin to that of a pubescent boy having scored his first roll between the sheets.

“The payback campaign has collapsed,” ANC parliamentarian Mathole Motshekga crowed.

Translation: corruption has won the day and our corruptible president is free to continue plundering the nation’s coffers at will.

So for now, some poor Makhanya guy (who still hasn’t shared his loot with other Makhanyas) and some public servants will carry the can.

In the coming months, the ANC will be distributing discussion documents in which it will wax lyrical about integrity, reject corruption and talk about restoring the moral character of the organisation.

When it gets to the national general council in the middle of 2015, it will affirm these noble ideals and pledge to work for a good South Africa.

With the victory that is Nkandla hanging in the air, they will speak of values and morality.

From there, they will go their separate ways to continue vandalising the memory of Oliver Reginald Tambo.

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