A Life In Exile

Oliver-Tambo-and-Nelson-MandelaOliver Tambo (left) and Nelson Mandela (right)

In order to accuse someone for being involved in terrorism it is important to know the meaning behind such a stalwart word. A terrorist can mean one or all of three things. It could mean the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims; a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism; or a person who terrorizes or frightens others. If you took all of these meanings and compared them to the actions and attitudes of Oliver Tambo you could make a justified conclusion – but before you do so, take into account the history behind the war on Apartheid and how South Africa was brought out of such horror.

Portrait of Oliver Tambo Speaking, 1960Many people would describe Tambo as a humanist, a kind man, and “nobody’s puppet”. He wanted the humanity in South Africa to be acknowledged and that is where the journey to freedom began. He was the president of the ANC, and Moscow’s frontman in years to come. However, not all things said about Tambo were positive; in fact, many were in opposition of his character. They said he was “a tool of communism”, and that he was a terrorist in all sense of the word. Keep those definitions I mentioned earlier in mind because they are key in determining your opinion on Oliver Tambo, the humanist.

“There are 12 million people in South Africa who are treated as if they are subhumans. In South Africa, I should feel that I’m a human being in that country. And I don’t feel so now at all. I feel I’m a stranger, a foreigner, and at best, an animal in South Africa.” – Oliver Tambo

Tambo sent out to find assistance from the European countries, and countries involved in the United Nations. He smuggled into countries using a fraudulent passport made by Frene Ginwala (who was also exiled) and while in exile himself, he set out for London. Tambo was the force that would mobilize the international world against apartheid, and for the next 30 years, he would not stop.

Charm, warmth, and love were all adjectives used to describe Tambo when people met him. They instantaneously became friends with him and seemed as if they could help him. He asked for assistance from St. Paul’s Cathedral so that he could set up an organization for aid relief, in which they replied yes since they had enough funds already for such an organization. Tambo’s travels really put the ANC on the map, and helped identify the struggles in Johannesburg, in Sharpeville, and in all of Africa.1960_sharpeville aftermath

It wasn’t until 1957 when changes started to occur. Africa was going through major historical changes from being ruled by Europeans for centuries to dozens of Africans (Ghana) throwing off European colonial rule. The PAC and ANC, who both had vastly different ideologies, worked together to seek aid from African states. They were seeking material aid for the strike and diplomatic support of African states which did not seem to be much of a challenge since African people were solid everywhere. Peter Molotsi (PAC) and Oliver Tambo (ANC) crossed the continent bringing new African nations on board for the international struggle to come.

United NationsThe real trouble began with the United Nations who were against any assistance with the anti apartheid movement in South Africa; the Congress and security council both resisted any form of support. The United States, who normally rested their allegiance with South Africa, thought that the apartheid was offensive and France abandoned the apartheid game. In fact, they all did.

“Apartheid was the absence of democracy, police state in tyranny, it was racism at its most blatant form…. Yes, the west ‘refused to condemn it’.” – VP, UN General Assembly, Sir Sonny Ramphal

After the ban on the ANC and PAC, the people of South Africa had no avenue of peaceful protest. Mandela made his way to London to help Tambo in asking the world for assistance to solve the problems. The radical thinking that they had conjured up were efforts of violence.

Soviet Union MapMandela returned to South Africa only to be arrested with 29 other ANC members or in simpler terms, the entire ANC leadership was charged with sabotage and were jailed.

There was only one option remaining and in April 1963, Tambo arrived in Moscow: the ANC would build an allegiance with the Soviet Union. The struggles of the military were very long and hard, and the idea of communism did not settle well with the rest of the world. The Soviet Union came with a cost to the ANC, as the United States were deathly afraid of communism – they wanted the Soviet Union out of South Africa. The strength that the Soviet Union gave to South Africa was in the powerful political playing card. The ANC was finally being backed by and supported by a powerful group, and in a CBS report with Oliver Tambo he says,

“The only conclusion you can draw is that the Soviet Union has provided assistance with the assistance that they want… We don’t asked to be influenced by the Soviet Union, but for assistance that we’ve asked for a long time ago.”

This put the ANC in the crossfire of the Cold War.

Sweden shortly swept in as a fiercely independent country and protested strongly against the infringement on human rights. Sweden spread the word about the horrors in South Africa, and they were very supportive by going “all out” for the African National Congress (ANC). In 1969, crucial support was provided to the ANC, in several million dollars, given by the new President of Sweden. Financial support was given to Africa for the next 25 years.
Struggle for FreedomNow, if you rewind back to the beginning of this brief history lesson, what are your thoughts on Oliver Tambo and do you think he was a “terrorist”?

If you argued yes, I can see where you would think so in the context of him using violence in the pursuit of political aims.

But if you said no, I can definitely support that answer.

I don’t believe that Oliver Tambo was a terrorist because a terrorist does not take on the role of a leader and travel all over the world to gain assistance to his country. A terrorist would not make peace with surrounding countries and states in order to honor his country with aid. I don’t believe Tambo has any of the qualities that a terrorist has because he did the opposite of destroying South Africa or any other nations, rather, he formed friendships with leaders and brought South Africa out of the deep hole of apartheid that they were in. A life of exile was to be murdered by the influence of Oliver Tambo and the assistance he gained from countries all over the world.

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One Comment on “A Life In Exile

  1. Pingback: The Final Reflection Before Our Trip | QU 301 South Africa

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