Address by President Nelson Mandela at the unveiling of the tombstone of Oliver Tambo, Benoni

19 April 1998

Master of ceremonies;
Our dear Adelaide and family;
Comrades and friends,

The main speaker on this occasion is Thabo Mbeki, the President of the movement to which Oliver Tambo dedicated his life.

But as one of the remaining friends of OR's I wanted to make a contribution. I wanted to do so notwithstanding the fact that I had the honour three days ago to speak at greater length when his name was given to the Tambo Memorial Hospital.

I wanted to do so if only to say what a unique occasion this is for me because of the way we have been together through many stages in the struggle for liberation.

Today's ceremony evokes the time that we were together at Fort Hare as students - where we benefited from what was then the rare privilege of education and also learnt early lessons in the costs of defending political principle.

It brings to mind our shared participation in the founding of the ANC Youth League, when our people demanded a new urgency in the quest for freedom.

It recalls memories of our partnership in law, which in those days inevitably took on a much wider significance than just the practice of a profession.

Above all, one thinks of when, as the ANC executive, we told O.R. to leave the country, on an uncharted mission in which he achieved spectacular success. He placed our organisation on a level it had never reached before.

Through exile and imprisonment kept us apart for many years, Oliver was never far from my thoughts. When at times in prison there were difficult choices and decisions to make, I would also think of how Tambo would handle things, such was his strength as a strategist.

And we think of Oliver's return to South Africa after three decades in exile, his strength of leadership undimmed by the toll that his dedication had taken on his health.

Though he died before South Africans cast their first vote in democratic elections, he did live to see the prisoners released and the exiles return. He did witness what he knew to be the initial steps of the strategic transition to a free and democratic South Africa.

His passing, so soon after we had been reunited, was a loss I felt very deeply.

It was a great loss to the ANC and to all South Africans. And yet he does live on in the hearts of our people as they work together to realise his ideals of freedom and human dignity. The many men and women, in every community, who are busy helping to help unite, and build and transform our society, are a part of his legacy.

May this memorial always find us strong in our commitment to those ideals!

Thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website