FULL TEXT: Naming of the OR Tambo International Airport
"In December 1990 Oliver returned to South Africa, having been in exile from his native land for three decades. It was wonderful to have him near."
That is a quote. I wrote those words in Long Walk to Freedom.
The words are coming back to me strongly tonight. The day was a Thursday, the 13th of December, 1990, a summer's day in South Africa. I was of course among those there to meet OR, along with our comrades.
We sat and spoke in the back of a motor car for a while before Oliver, who was very frail by then, got out to acknowledge the thunderous welcome of the crowds that had gathered. I had the honour to tell those crowds: 'Our president wishes to say he is happy to be home.'
I remember the widest grin on Oliver's face as the crowd erupted. I remember also that Oliver had said, while I was still in prison: 'The moment of our freedom will come in the lifetime of Nelson and myself'. He was not to savour that moment of freedom in the way he deserved.
What I have not said so far is where we were; where the homecoming of Oliver Reginald Tambo occurred.
It was here, at an airport then called Jan Smuts, in a country not yet liberated, but certain it would be. Commentators at the time noted that this was the largest welcoming crowd ever to gather at Johannesburg's airport – much larger than that which greeted Hendrik Verwoerd on his return from the Commonwealth conference of 1961.
And so it should have been, and so it was.
At Oliver's funeral, in Johannesburg on the 2nd of May 1993, just a year before the elections that marked the victory of the struggle for democracy in our land, I delivered a eulogy in which I said 'Oliver has not died – because the struggle for freedom and justice lives. I also said: 'We will not fail you'.
And so here we are tonight, to celebrate the renaming of this airport in honour of a South African hero, an African hero, a world hero.
I close by saying this. In 1990 Oliver returned to South Africa. It was wonderful to have him near. In 2006 we bring him near again. And that is wonderful.
I thank you.