Oliver Tambo Remembered: His Life In Exile (A Review)

Every struggle has its heroes, villains and those who occupy the middleground. In the case of Kenya's fight for freedom from the colonialists, the heroes are the Mau Mau, Kapenguria Six and the tribal leaders who started the fight when the British started taking over the land. The villains were of course the colonialists themselves. The ones in the middleground? The disenfranchised Mau Mau fighters rather than the collective as a whole. This is not to say that none of the heroes deserve to be where they are but what about those in the middleground? Similar scenarios happen all over the world and in South Africa, the fight against apartheid is the best example.

Oliver Reginald Tambo is one of those who is in the middleground. Apart from the airport in Johannesburg, not many major monuments are named after him. And his story is more or less glossed over with regards to the fight against apartheid. OR, as he is affectionately known, was a partner of Nelson Mandela (the biggest hero of the apartheid movement though he is said to have accidentaly stumbled into it) at their law firm. Following the early tribulations regarding the leadership of the African National Congress, he was sent abroad to help steer the party while it continued the fight against apartheid.

In Z. Pallo Jordan's book, Oliver Tambo Remembered: His Life in Exile, we get the portrait of a man who was not only concerned with the liberation of his country from rule by the minority but by liberation in all aspects of the word. Despite overseeing a complex organisation that spanned a number of countries in Africa, Europe and America, OR was concerned in ensuring equality for women and the promotion of culture. The book is a collection of recollections penned in by people who knew him through his work and a mix of interviews.

No amount of words will be able to fully review this book because it shows how OR was a giant of Africa. Here was a man who put all he had on the frontlines for his people. He is the proverbial Moses who unfortunately never got to see the promised land dying a few months before the 1994 democratic elections in South Africa. The book was released on what would have been OR's 90th birthday.

Some of those who have penned in include Desmond Tutu, Sam Nujoma, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Lindiwe Mabuza and Baroness Lynda Chalker. For them to describe this man as a person who was attentive to anyone no matter their position in life, kind and fully engaged even after suffering the first of two strokes, shows that OR was a true colossus of the world. It is also a peek at how apartheid affected not just South Africa but the surrounding countries.

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