The Struggle for Dignity, Not for Color

Portrait of Oliver Tambo Speaking, 1960

The name Oliver Tambo meant next to nothing to me only days ago. His story was foreign and I knew no better than to assume his history. What I didn’t know was that in the course of a fifty seven minute clip I would develop utmost respect for this man.


The second part of Have You Heard from Johannesburg? was a real eye opener, not only into the history of the country but to the realization that I was officially hooked. Hooked on the history, on the questions, and on the stories I have still yet to discover about South Africa.

Oliver Tambo, regarded by some as a terrorist, was a gentle soul whose intentions were solely set on peace and equality. Tambo’s struggles to put the African National Congress, or ANC, on an international map for help pushed the fight towards anti apartheid movement to be fought on two fronts. Back home in South Africa the ANC continued the non-violence struggle while Tambo, stationed in London, was on a mission to get worldwide concern for the apartheid in his home country.

Oliver Tambo was smart enough to know that the struggle would not be won without help from African countries, so he began a mission to gain support and seek aid from within. In the scheme of everything, Tambo acted as the architect of the infrastructure towards an anti-apartheid South Africa.

Few countries were willing to offer support or aid and the ones that did were in the process of their own reforms. The PAC, a liberation group, joined forces with the ANC as the attempted ban on South African goods and services went to the United Nations. The footage of the UN conference in regards to apartheid was nothing short of appalling to watch. The job of the United Nations is to promote and enforce respect for all human rights but the conference made it clear that they felt South Africa’s problems were their own and not the world’s to solve.

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There was grief and anger towards the countries, worldwide that knew apartheid was wrong yet did nothing about it. It seemed as though the ANC’s attempts were going nowhere, and with more people being killed, Tambo knew they were teetering on the brink of another blood bath. It became abundantly clear that the passive resistance was getting them nowhere and it was time to make a statement to be heard worldwide. The ANC bombed power lines in Johannesburg to awaken the South African government. It was time the ANC moved out of their peaceful paradigm and into one that would be taken seriously.

The ANC’s act cost many to be jailed, including Nelson Mandela and other leadership heads of the congress. With so much human worth locked behind bars, and little to no support coming in, there was only one last method to resort to.

Soviet Union SymbolThe Soviets responded with great effort to offer support for the South African country, but this help came at a cost. The United States had been a long standing ally of South Africa but they were deathly afraid of communism and backed instantly away when the Soviets began helping. Even with the Soviets offering so much help it’s hard to overlook all the Soviets stood to gain from such a move as well. In just months, Tambo finally received from the Soviets what he needed for the African liberation movement to weaken dependence on western nations. The aid coming from the Soviets was substantial, but the reputation that came along nearly ended the ANC. Many assumed that the ANC was an acting terrorist communist prop from the Soviets to gain precious minerals in South Africa.

I could sit and rehash the history of South African over and over but what stopped me in my tracks is the reasoning behind the history. With all of this history being retold through disturbing videos and audios I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at the total disregard for human rights and lack of responsibility countries were willing to take.  I hear the stories of apartheid and this sort of power struggle between the South African people and South African government and can’t help but ask why?

I don’t understand what these people have to gain by killing so many and implementing unreasonable laws on these people. Is power truly that intoxicating? There seems to be such a disconnect between the government and simple human decency. There is such an evilness of racism, wickedness in their lack of remorse and sickening realism that these people felt no regrets in who they killed to create their own power. This struggle was not seen by the color of the people but by the struggle for dignity for all of humanity.


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