Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government
Members of the Diplomatic corps
It is my honour to welcome you to this event today, as we commemorate the centenary anniversary of an illustrious son of South Africa and icon of our country’s liberation, Oliver Reginald Tambo, affectionately known as “O.R.”
In honour of President O.R, who was born one hundred years ago, South Africa declared 2017, “the Year of O.R. Tambo”. This is in honour of a man who dedicated his life to the liberation, freedom and equal opportunity of all South Africans.
It is appropriate that we are holding this celebration here at the Headquarters of the United Nations, because a significant part of O.R.’s contribution to our democratic, non-racial, free South Africa, was through his mobilisation of international solidarity against apartheid.
Comrade O.R.’s exemplary leadership as an international statesman and consummate diplomat, shaped the vision of a post-apartheid democratic South Africa and the country’s foreign policy, and the principles on which it is grounded. These are Patriotism, Loyalty, Dedication, Ubuntu, Equity, Integrity, and Batho Pele meaning putting people first.
President Tambo served as president of our liberation Movement, the African National Congress (ANC), from 1967 to 1991. He is recognised, amongst many achievements, for having held the many facets of the ANC together, as many of its members were scattered across the world in exile.
Comrade O.R. united the ANC by listening to, and engaging with, the concerns of comrades, and by staying true to the core values of the ANC, displaying great integrity and discipline, in serving the organisation, and the interests of South Africa.
Following the Sharpeville Massacre, on 21 March 1960, Comrade O.R. embarked on a “Mission in Exile” in order to gain international support for the South African liberation movement. He mobilised international solidarity against apartheid and contributed to shaping the vision of a post-apartheid democratic South Africa.
Over and above his responsibilities as head of the ANC’s diplomatic mission, he had to lead and manage the military aspects of our struggle, fundraising, the setting up of ANC offices around the world and the overall welfare of ANC cadres in exile.
His use of consensus and ability to inspire collective decision-making made him a true master of the art of diplomacy. It will be recalled that during 1963 and 1964, Mr Tambo made a number of high profile speeches to present the ANC to the world, the most prominent being one made to the United Nations in October 1963, where he made a passionate plea for the release of political prisoners.
This speech inspired the United Nations Resolution 18 of 11 October, 1963 calling on the South African government to release all political prisoners.
Again on 11 June 1981, OR Tambo stood here at the General Assembly and delivered a key message at the meeting of the United Nations Committee against Apartheid where he urged and called upon Member States to act with urgency against the unjust realities faced by the black people of South Africa under the Apartheid regime.
He also acknowledged the significant role of the United Nations and its Special Committee against Apartheid in support of the struggle for liberation.
He said that, and I quote, “the Special Committee had been an inspiring example of devotion to the cause of freedom for the people of South Africa” and was “in a way an important wing of the liberation struggle of the people of South Africa”. Close quote.
On 12 January 1982, he further saluted the Special Committee which he said had been; “a fighting weapon of the people of South Africa and which has taken the kind of initiatives through which the international community is virtually united today in support of the struggle of the people of South Africa”.
As the great father of our nation, President Nelson Mandela said at the funeral of Comrade O.R - “Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people. He lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision. While he lived, our minds would never quite formulate the thought that this man is other than what the naked eye could see.
“We could sense it, but never crystallise the thought that with us was one of the few people who inhabited our own human environment, who could be described as the jewel in our crown. I say that Oliver Tambo has not died, because the ideals for which he sacrificed his life can never die."
Oliver Tambo left a lasting legacy, not only for the African National Congress, but for South Africa, and the world at large.
As we celebrate the centenary of our beloved icon, we draw inspiration from his exemplary leadership, and vision, and celebrate, at this fitting venue, the life of one of South Africa’s great statesmen and diplomats.
As we celebrate his life, we thank all of you, the international community, because of your support and solidarity during that most difficult period in the history of South Africa.
We thank you because you chose to care, as Madiba said on his release.
On that note I invite you to raise a glass to this great South African hero, Oliver Reginald Tambo.
I thank you.