The struggle for freedom from colonisation and oppression has produced outstanding revolutionaries and consummate activists and gave birth to many heroes and heroines, including our icon and father, the first President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda.
Our visit to Zambia reminded us of the fact that President Kenneth Kaunda refused to be intimidated when he was harassed for harbouring liberation movements including the ANC. He refused to chase us away. He refused to make Oliver Tambo and his people wanderers. He stood by us through thick and thin, and so did the wonderful people of Zambia many of whom lost their lives and loved ones in the struggle for the liberation of our country.
We count among these, Zambian citizens as well as soldiers who had taken upon themselves that they would not rest until our country and its people were free. They all understood that a free South Africa meant freedom and economic development for the entire continent. For this, they paid the ultimate price.
The emotion I felt on my visit to Zambia is only similar to one I felt during another time in history when all of us who were exiled and had found a home in Lusaka had to return to our country in 1990. President Kaunda gave us a military aircraft to return to South Africa, as he said he wanted us to go home as "respectable leaders".
I am deeply overwhelmed by the honour bestowed on me by the University of Zambia, of the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. This is first honorary degree I have received outside of South Africa. It is important to me that it is bestowed by Zambia, which was responsible for part of my people's education.
I am a product of people's education. I owe everything I know to the ordinary people of my village in eNkandla, to South Africans from all walks of life in and outside of the struggle, and to people I have met in many countries of the world. I cannot claim education from any classroom. That is why I continue to humble myself before the people, as I have deep respect for them, and will always continue to be a part of them.
People of Zambia are familiar with the name OR Tambo, the South African patriot who was a worker, a scientist, a teacher and a leader, a father and a humanist who dedicated his entire life to the struggle for the liberation of his people. Although he would spend days and weeks travelling the world to mobilize the international community against apartheid, he would always return to Lusaka, the ANC Head Quarters and the home away from home that he had found for all of us.
In South Africa we are blessed with an array of leaders who have left indelible footprints in the annals of the struggle for freedom and democracy. We count among these Alfred Nzo, Joe Slovo, Joe Modise, Chris Hani, Moses Mabhida, Yusuf Dadoo, Billy Nair and Duma Nokwe. Amongst these leaders, Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, the longest ever serving president of the African National Congress from 1969 to 1991, stands as tall and unbreakable in life as in death.
Oliver Tambo was, is and will continue to be the pride of the ANC. I know of no part of his life that was spent outside the service to the people, led by the people's movement, the ANC. He spent all his adult life serving in the struggle against apartheid. ''O R'', as his peers popularly knew him, was born on 27th October 1917 in a rural town of Bizana, in Eastern Mpondoland in what was then the Cape Province (now Eastern Cape).
He studied at Fort Hare University where he was expelled before completing his Honours' degree in Science. He then moved to Johannesburg where he teamed up with Nelson Mandela to establish the first ever legal office by black Africans right at the city centre.
Comrade OR then threw himself body and soul into the ANC. He was among the founding members of the ANC Youth League in 1944, and became its first National Secretary. Together with Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Ashby Mda, Anton Lembede, Dr William Nkomo, Dr C.M. Majombozi and others - they were instrumental in the transformation of the ANC. They changed it from a liberal-constitutionalist organisation into a radical national liberation movement and the democratic force that it is today.
I mention this background to demonstrate that Comrade Tambo was one of the pioneers and shapers of the ANC as we know it today. He was certainly the strategist and architect of many things that brought freedom closer to our people.
It is often said of the first President of Independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah that he is a reminder not of what Africa is, but what Africa should become. Like Nkrumah, for many years Oliver Tambo carried the torch as a symbol of what a free and democratic South Africa should be like. We are indeed privileged and proud to have inherited the leadership of the African National Congress which OR so capably led during the most trying time in its history.
This was the time when most of our leaders, including Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned. The ANC was a banned organization. Its armed wing, Mkhonto weSizwe was involved in combats and sabotage operations. Townships were burning, comrades were dying in detention, apartheid forces planting bombs even beyond South Africa's borders. We were hunted and persecuted beyond our borders. We had become strangers in our own land. As a people we were desperate and bleeding, we were hungry and angry. Yet, we knew that victory was certain, simply because Oliver Tambo said so!
Oliver Tambo remained a glue that held the many facets of the ANC together, believing that without unity, South Africa indeed Africa had no future. Because Comrade Tambo so epitomized hope that our country could be better, today his name is instantly recognizable and associated with the reconstruction and development that we embarked on soon after liberation. In no small measure, one of our most important gateways, the OR Tambo International airport, is named after him, as do other host of institutions and localities.
But Comrade Tambo's legacy lives beyond that. It is in the blood, the heart and soul of the ANC. It is manifest in our daily endeavours to create a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa of which all of us can be proud. Comrade Tambo's greatest bequest to the South African nation is his universalism, the incredible ability to see more that unifies us as peoples of the world than that which divides us.
Through his efforts, nations of the world knew of the plight of oppressed South Africa and threw their lot behind anti-apartheid campaigns, resulting in the most uniformly applied economic sanctions against any one country. He convinced the peoples of the world, through the United Nations and other platforms that apartheid was an affront to all freedom loving nations, that it was indeed a crime against humanity.
Assisted by African governments, Comrade OR was able to establish ANC missions in Egypt, Ghana, Morocco and in London. From these small beginnings, under his stewardship the ANC acquired missions in a total of 27 countries by 1990. These included all the permanent members of the UN Security Council, with the exception of China, two missions in Asia and one in Australasia.
A visionary that Tambo was, he looked beyond apartheid and its demise and understood that our freedom should liberate even the former oppressors themselves.
Apart from Nelson Mandela, Tambo remains the greatest symbol of our reconciliation policies. For him, there was no Coloured or Indian, Zulu or Afrikaner, but a people united in the quest for a free South Africa. OR Tambo emphasized above everything else. For him, unity and coherence of the ANC was sacrosanct. If the ANC was a broad church, then Tambo fitted the role of the pastor like no other.
Because of him, today South Africa is a new nation, a united people founded on the fundamental principles of human dignity, democracy and equal rights for all. From Comrade OR we also inherited the ability not just to listen, but to decode every point made during debates and discussion so as to enable people to reach consensus. I know of no other organisation that thrives and values debate and consensus as a democratic principle than the African National Congress. We treasure that legacy that was bequeathed to us by OR.
In OR Tambo we had a leader who was able to chart the way forward towards a negotiated settlement, while many were still finding it difficult to accept that there would be no dramatic seizure of power. From the time he sent former President Thabo Mbeki and myself to open dialogue with our oppressors to the onset of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, OR Tambo's leadership and counsel were invaluable.
At every stage of our Movement, OR's hand could be discerned: from the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners to the unbanning of the ANC, SACP, PAC, AZAPO and others, from the Mass Democratic Movement of the 1980s to the watershed first democratic elections in 1994. From the Harare Declaration to the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, we are infinitely indebted to Oliver Tambo.
We are a united and democratic nation today whose vibrancy and unity in diversity is hailed around the world because President Tambo taught us to be proponents of the common vision of justice and peace. He taught us to be the defenders of the rights of the child, the man, the woman and the beast of the forest to live, to be free and to prosper. As we consolidate OR Tambo's memory, we know that he would not be content merely with freedom and democracy.
He would urge us to continue on this mission of a fundamental transformation and to work for the prosperity of the peoples of both Zambia and South Africa. He would urge us to rebuild that which apartheid and colonialism sought to destroy over many decades. He would urge us to advance in unity we nurtured during the most difficult period of our human history when we fought for liberation against our colonial masters.
He would frown upon the xenophobic tendencies that are becoming a regular occurrence in our country. He would urge us to share in our prosperity with our sisters and brothers in the continent like they shared and gave their all including paying the supreme price for our own liberation.
In 1993 at Oliver Tambo's funeral on the eve of South Africa's first democratic elections, President Nelson Mandela, like the throngs of our people who had snaked their way to FNB Stadium in Soweto, refused to accept his passing. He stated:
"Oliver Tambo has not died because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish".
We owe a reconstructed, united and prosperous Africa to Tambo. We owe it to Kenneth Kaunda and to all the illustrious founding fathers of a liberated Africa. Let us, in honour of Oliver Tambo and all fallen African icons, work harder than ever before, to rebuild that which apartheid and colonialism sought to destroy over many decades.
I wish you all a safe, restful, happy and prosperous festive season. Remember not to drink and drive, and arrive alive. We will speak again on 9 January 2010 in GWK Park Stadium in Kimberly when we will converge to celebrate the 98th Anniversary of our glorious movement, the African National Congress.