PREMIER'S PERSPECTIVE: We need to heed lessons of Tambo

“Looking out from my home, the site of it (Engeli Mountain) commanded a wide view of the terrain as it swept from the vicinity of my home and stretched away as far as the eye could see. The Engeli Mountains were a huge wall that rolls in the distance to mark the end of a very broken landscape, a landscape of great variety and, looking back now, I would say of great beauty,” said Oliver Reginald “OR” Tambo, soon after his arrival back home after more than 30 years living in exile and fighting apartheid rule.

“But the nagging question was, what lay beyond the Engeli Mountains? Just exactly what was there? How far would one be able to walk over the mountains to Egoli, Johannesburg? What sort of world would it be? What did it conceal from my view? I saw two worlds. The one in the vicinity of my home... This was my world. I understood it from my mother’s rondavel... I was part of this world. There was obviously another one beyond the Engeli Mountains,” Tambo wrote of his reminiscences with his sister at their Mbizana village of Kantolo, in the district of eastern Pondoland.

As we celebrate his 100th birthday and remember his life and commitment to the fight against apartheid, both during his time in South Africa and during the decades he spent in exile, there is no doubt that his writings and teachings give us a glimpse of his sterling leadership, the enduring lessons we learnt from him and the indelible mark he left on our politics.

Almost 24 years since Tambo’s passing and as we celebrate his centenary, many people have been debating whether a new leader will ever emerge to carry the banner for political and social justice with as much influence as OR.

When you read the hundreds of leadership articles by gurus, here are qualities featuring every time: confidence, vision, effective communication, attitude, courage, inspiration, decision-making, empathy, sense of humour, emotional intelligence, honesty, integrity and trust.

How then does a leader like OR create trust? The authors of Learning to Lead, W Bennis and J Goldsmith have said that “trust is the essential quality that creates a following. It is the secret of leaders who are able to inspire movements that create great social change and successful organisations that achieve their vision”.

According to the authors, the “four Cs” are essential characteristics of the leader who will develop trust in the organisation. The leader must be congruent, consistent, caring, and competent.

Those who worked with OR in exile have said he insisted on the quality of leaders who led from the front and were “congruent, consistent, caring, and competent”. He was demanding on those who worked under him, but was also a tireless worker who dirtied his hands.

As we celebrate his 100th birthday, I think counting on a single charismatic leader with all of the above qualities may be counterproductive. Why? Because when one goes through his teachings and leadership style, I believe what OR would be happy with is that every person would follow his teachings and not depend on one leader.

We should not wait to have another leader like him, but everyone should push for solutions to our socioeconomic and political problems, particularly unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Indeed, men or women like OR are rare. I don’t believe we have the luxury to wait around until another OR emerges. We should concentrate on electing leaders at all levels of government who are prepared to attack unemployment, poverty and inequality head on just like OR.

When he was elected Deputy President of the ANC in 1958, this is what the ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli said about OR’s leadership qualities: “The quality of our deputy president Oliver Tambo’s speech makes me very happy – even if I and others in the leadership of the ANC were to die, there are young men like Oliver Tambo who are now ready to take responsibility for the ANC.”

Like OR, we must put all our efforts into promoting a positive environment for economic growth and development if we are to break the back of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Happy 100th birthday OR. We know you are surrounded by angels. We are honoured and delighted to send you our love and very best wishes on this wonderful occasion of your 100th birthday.

  • Phumulo Masualle is premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on @EC_ Premier and on Facebook at Masincokole.