Tambo used communication to cripple apartheid

Thursday, September 21, 2017
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Communication was one of the most powerful weapons that Oliver Reginald Tambo believed would dismantle the apartheid government and liberate South Africans.

On Wednesday, a panel discussion hosted by Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) -- in partnership with the National Press Club -- celebrated the role of the longest serving ANC President in advocating for media freedom.

Since the beginning of the year, citizens have been given an opportunity to reflect on the life of Tambo and his impact on democracy. The discussion on Wednesday was held to focus on his contribution towards realising media freedom.

Panellists said Tambo believed in communication and the use of media to keep the South African public informed about issues that affected their lives.

Tambo also strongly used communication every time he crossed South African borders to speak out against the oppressive apartheid government and to mobilise the international community to help liberate South Africa.

The panel discussion was one of many events to pave the way towards the national celebrations of the centenary of OR Tambo, which is scheduled for October. Had he lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of his plight of fighting for democracy, Tambo would be 100 years old on 27 October.

A man of value

Reflecting on the life of Tambo, Brand South Africa Chief Executive Officer, Dr Kingsley Makhubela, said he understood some of Tambo’s underlying values, and how he upheld checks and balances in government.

“I had the privilege, at a very tender age, to have worked with OR Tambo directly, first as a body guard and later as his chief body Guard. OR [Tambo] was a visionary. He realised very early on that within the structures of the African National Congress (ANC), there is a need to develop some legal framework and to start to interrogate constitutional matters.

“He set up an entity that he called the Department of Legal and Constitutional Affairs (DLCA), which was to start to develop the constitutional framework. It covered issues around institutional democracy,” said Makhubela.

Tambo was also instrumental in the establishment of Radio Freedom. According to Makhubela, Radio Freedom was not established to tell lies about the activities of the ANC but to reflect correctly the policies of the organisation and developments within the country, and to share information about how the struggling was progressing.

Tambo’s contribution to media freedom

Tambo spent most of his lifetime in exile in neighbouring countries. One of the men who had an opportunity to drink from Tambo’s well of leadership wisdom, Thami Ntenteni, who is also Head of Communications of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, said Radio Freedom began in South Africa, not in exile.

“The very first broadcast of Radio Freedom was done inside the country by Walter Sisulu. Immediately after the arrest of the ANC leadership in Rivonia, Walter Sisulu broadcasted from underground, where he said ‘Our house is on fire. The whole leadership of the ANC has been arrested, and I am broadcasting now from underground from hiding. I have not seen my family for the past two weeks. However, we pledge to continue the struggle for freedom’. That was the very first broadcast,” said Ntenteni.

He said it was soon after the Sharpeville Massacre, when the ANC leadership in South Africa had been arrested in Rivonia, Oliver Tambo was tasked with the responsibility of going outside and setting up the external mission of the ANC.

“The organisation had to adopt completely new tactics of underground operations under conditions of illegality.”

Ntenteni said Tambo convinced him to undergo journalism training in Russia, Germany and Canada before joining Radio Freedom in Angola and later Tanzania.

“It is purely by accident that I ended up being in Radio Freedom and being in the media [field]. It was never my intention. I had never even thought about it.

“I refused to accept a proposal to go for journalism training in Russia when I was in Dar es Salaam. I told them I did not come here to go to school… I came here to learn how to handle a weapon and go back to shoot my way into South Africa and liberate our people. That was my thinking, and I was adamant that nobody would change that.

“We were told that the then ANC President Oliver Tambo was coming. We were all very excited. He arrived and as per norm, we discussed political situations and other things. At the end of that discussion, he wanted to see me and a number of other colleagues who were seconded to go train as journalists. He wanted to see us individually.”

In his conversation with O R Tambo, Ntenteni explained why he refused to go for journalism training. However, Tambo said to him: “We are giving you a responsibility that is greater than that of a man who will be going into South Africa carrying a gun. We are giving you a responsibility to prepare the people of South Africa psychologically to receive the man who has a gun. The struggle in South Africa is not a military one. It is primarily a political struggle and we have been forced by circumstances to take up arms. We need you to go and train as a journalist and prepare our people.”

Ntenteni had no choice but to accept the challenge. “I only agreed on terms that I would firstly go for military training before joining the school of journalism, and we agreed.”

O R Tambo Foundation CEO Linda Vilakazi said the foundation continues to unearth more people who worked closely with Tambo so that they can share their memories of the liberation leader. - SAnews.gov.za

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