On October 13 President Chagwa Lungu and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma stood side by side commissioning the memorial site of Oliver Reginald Tambo in Lusaka’s Chelstone area. It was a befitting memory for the man who led the liberation movement that is the African National Congress (ANC) in exile.
Tambo spent 23 of his 33 years in Lusaka at the Chelstone house that doubled as a safe house.
Befittingly Kenneth David Kaunda was part of the event as he became the godfather of liberation movements in Southern Africa sheltering freedom fighters across the region. At a time when the contribution of freedom fighters to the liberation of the continent is but a dim memory for the current generation of citizens.
As Zambia celebrates its 53rd Independence anniversary perhaps the Tambo beacon should provide a reference point on where this continent is coming from. Not too long ago the OR Memorial site was but just another house doubling as a garage until Stanbic Zambia caught on the cue by government declaring it a memorial site to renovate it.
The occasion should provide the youth of our country to dig into their history and not just view it as just another annual event. The Independence Day memory for Zambia should go beyond just seeing Kaunda as the sum total of Zambian liberation. What about the many freedom fighters that walk the streets of this country unnoticed and even frowned upon? What about the many women that suffered humiliation, abuse and rejection as they made their humble contribution toward the country’s independence.
For even Tambo’s contribution toward the struggle tends to be overshadowed by the larger than life Mandela-esque reputation. But Tambo alongside many other comrades kept the struggle alive outside apartheid South Africa from the Cha Cha Road offices in Lusaka.
The soft spoken Tambo, sporting hone rimmed spectacles was one of the founders of the ANC Youth League eventually becoming its general secretary in 1948. To date the ANC remains noteworthy for its militant approach to politics and king maker role in the country’s politics. He too was part of the future leadership that were made their mark at Fort Hare where he was expelled for championing protests.
With leaders of the ANC facing increased harassment and imprisonment it was decided that some members should be smuggled outside the country to wage an international struggle for the abolition of apartheid.
Thus began the journey of Tambo into unchartered territory and set up base in Lusaka in 1959 from where other comrades were later to join him.
Fast forward to 1990 when Nelson Mandela was being released, Tambo was one of the people that were being lined up to lead South Africa but then ANC president suffered a stroke that subsequently ruled him out of the top job.
He was however honoured with the chairmanship position that he held until his death in 1993.
Forever admired for his sharp wit, modest, mobilizer and remarkable sense of internationalist politics.
Perhaps the Chelstone house should be more than a Tambo memory but a reminder to our modern day politicians of the virtues that OR stood for.