The South African Federation of Trade Unions, on this the 100th anniversary of his birth on 27 October 1917, pays tribute to Comrade OR Tambo, one of South Africa’s greatest revolutionary leaders of our liberation struggle.
He was the most principled and committed leader, without whose work and dedication we might have waited much longer for the overthrow of racist tyranny in 1994. Yet he was also one of the most modest and selfless leaders, who always put the movement of the masses before his own interests.
OR Tambo and his then ANC was a symbol of all the best values of the people of this continent. He personified selflessness and opposed to today’s marauding culture of me-first and to-hell-with-everyone-else. He exemplified solidarity and made the whole world to appreciate this value. It was from this that internationalist leg of our struggle was so effective.
He was modest and lived a simple life and was not about greed and the self-serving manoeuvres that we are witnessing today. For OR it was the people first and not families and cronies first. He was about building an egalitarian society as opposed to the culture of conspicuous consumption, which underlines the growing inequalities.
OR Tambo played such an important role to unite not only the ANC in difficult years of exile. He championed the Freedom Charter demand that all national groups shall be equal. He championed non-racialism. Without his skillful leadership the ANC and consequently the struggling masses could have easily descended into tribal divisions and racial strife. We are worried about the reality that tribalism is raising its ugly head again and, notwithstanding the strides made, racism and racial divisions remain a problem.
OR Tambo has been betrayed; everything he stood for has been turned upside down, including two of the most important demands of the Freedom Charter – The land shall be shared and Wealth shall be shared. He presided over the Morogoro conference that said:
“In our country – more than in any other part of the oppressed world – it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.”
This perspective has been abandoned in favour of neoliberalism that has only served to entrench the status quo inherited from colonialism and apartheid. Victims of racism across the length and breadth of the country know that little has changed.
Ask the lady who was allegedly raped and forced to perform sexual acts with two dogs what is the meaning of “allowing the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact”, which, as the the OR Tambo-led movement said, “is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation”.
There could not be a time when it was more important to OR Tambo’s memory and relearn the lessons he taught on how a revolutionary struggle should, and should not, be led.
OR Tambo would surely have been deeply hurt and angry today if he could see the succession of corruption scandals and the spread of the capitalist culture of greed and self-enrichment, which is unravelling the fabric of the movement he built.
It is undermining all the great progress we have made and plunging us into a society which is the absolute opposite of the free, democratic and egalitarian society for which OR spent his life fighting for.
“We seek to create a united democratic and non-racial society.” he said “We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity.”
Scandalously what he would see today the opposite – a country in which for the big majority there is neither peace nor prosperity.
Prosperity is a dream for most South Africans, as the levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality rise inexorably.
Millions cannot afford to buy sufficient food or access healthcare, decent sanitation and other essentials of a decent life. The National Income Dynamics Study shows that 29% of the population are trapped in severe poverty.
As well as suffering such poverty residents of poor communities live in squalid slums, with pitiful levels of service and are in daily fear of criminal gangs who terrorise the people.
Far from being peaceful, more and more poor communities are becoming like war zones in which communities take to the streets in often violent protests against run-away crime, poor service delivery and the lack of basic amenities.
Unemployment, at 36.6%, is one of the highest in the world and is the main driver of poverty. Jobs are being lost daily, which drives not only those workers themselves but thousands of dependent family members, as many as ten per worker, into abject poverty.
Even thousands of those still with jobs are suffering from poverty. The monthly BankservAfrica Disposable Index released on Thursday confirms what many workers already knew – that real disposable take-home pay shrank, for the first time in seven months on a year-on-year basis, due to higher inflation in September 2017. The average, real, seasonally adjusted banked salary declined by 1.3% to R13,964 in September.
Meanwhile, the rich keep getting richer. Between 2007 and 2017, the cumulative holdings of the top 10 on the JSE increased from R64bn to R280bn. The average remuneration of the top 200 earners in SA increased from R16.6m in 2007 to R20.8m in 2015.
CEOs of the largest listed firms earned between 120 and 1,332 times more than the average pay at their companies. South African CEOs earn on average 541 times the country’s per capita GDP. This is significantly higher than in the US (483:1) and the UK (229:1).
All this has happened under the watch of a government of Comrade OR’s own African National Congress. Its leaders have forgotten everything he said about prosperity for all, and implemented policies dictated by the interests of the still all-powerful white monopoly capitalist class and the demands of international credit rating agencies. These policies, including GEAR and the NDP, have made the country the most unequal in the world.
Worst of all for Comrade OR, is the number of the ANC leaders who have been implicated in outrageous levels of corruption, fraud and other economic crimes, in order to enrich themselves, their families and cronies. They have collaborated with private-sector business leaders to loot state-owned enterprises and bring some of them to the brink of bankruptcy.
And to try to save themselves they have corrupted the constitutional and legal structures, the SAPS, Hawks and the MPA who are failing to prosecute the offenders and bring them to court to face trial.
And they have done all this in the name of OR Tambo’s ANC, and excused themselves with the spurious claim that they are bringing about ‘radical economic transformation’ when in fact they are doing the very opposite and exhibiting the worst morality of the very same ‘white monopoly capitals system’ they pretend they are fighting against.
We owe it to the memory of Comrade OR Tambo, and all other struggle heroes, to rid our movement of this scourge of corruption, theft and greed, and unite behind the principles that he personified – of fighting for a better life for all South Africans and putting service to the people before any thought of personal enrichment.
As he said: ”It is our responsibility to break down barriers of division and create a country where there will be neither Whites nor Blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.”
Long live the memory of Comrade OR Tambo, Long Live!