Guardian of the ANC's flame dies

NELSON MANDELA spent a few minutes alone yesterday morning with the body of his lifelong friend Oliver Tambo, who had died before dawn, and saw in his face, he said, the look of a man facing eternity at peace with himself and at peace with the world.

Mr Mandela was speaking at a press conference hastily arranged at the headquarters of the African National Congress to honour the man who, when every other leader was in jail, held the organisation together and built it, from exile, into the most powerful political force in South Africa. That, Mr Mandela said, was the measure of Mr Tambo's achievement.

'I will feel his loss in a unique manner,' Mr Mandela said. 'We are bleeding from the invisible wounds that are so difficult to heal.' Coming just two weeks after the assassination of Chris Hani, the pain of Mr Tambo's death - he suffered a severe stroke at 3.10 yesterday morning - was written all over Mr Mandela's face.

The pair met at Fort Hare University in the Thirties, founded the ANC Youth League in the Forties and in effect took over the leadership of the organisation as a whole in the Fifties. With Walter Sisulu, they transformed the ANC from a passive to a militant revolutionary organisation constantly in conflict with the apartheid state. Mr Mandela and Mr Tambo also found time in the Fifties to establish South Africa's first black legal partnership.

In 1960 Mr Tambo, then deputy president of the ANC, was instructed by the organisation to go into exile. The feeling - quite correctly, as it proved - was that a dangerous new phase was beginning in the apartheid struggle, which could lead to the imprisonment and death of the ANC's top leaders. One of them had to leave the country to mobilise international support against apartheid.

Within five years, virtually the entire ANC leadership had been mopped up by the police, and it was left to Mr Tambo to keep the flame flickering. As president of the ANC, a function he officially assumed in 1969, he kept open lines of communication with the internal resistance, oversaw the development of the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) and, by the late Eighties, had outdone the South African government in the number of diplomatic missions the ANC had abroad.

In many countries he was received with the protocol usually afforded to heads of state. The family home was always London, but he himself spent most of his time either at ANC headquarters in Lusaka or travelling indefatigably around the globe.

One point he made over and over again was that the ANC had turned to war not out of bloodlust or revenge, but because the South African government had shut the door to negotiation. 'The need for us to take up arms will never transform us into prisoners of the idea of violence,' he declared in 1987. Three years later, after President De Klerk's decision to unban the ANC, he applauded the leadership's decision to abandon the armed struggle.

His final contribution before suffering a debilitating stroke in 1989 was to preside over the drafting of the Harare Declaration, a document fixing the ANC on the path to a negotiated settlement of the South African dilemma.

After a 30-year exile, he returned to South Africa to a tumultuous welcome in December 1990 and settled in the country six months later. At a national ANC conference in July 1991, Mr Tambo ceded the presidency of the organisation to Mr Mandela. Unlike Mr Hani, Mr Tambo was not able to sustain the myth that had built up around him. The stroke had left him partly immobilised on his right side and he walked with difficulty. He became the grandfather of the ANC, filling the largely honorary title of 'national chairman'.

But he was not inactive. Mr Mandela said yesterday that he had to be restrained, almost forcibly, from working a full five-day week. Right up to his death, he was working three days a week and, in Mr Mandela's absence, he would chair the meetings of the ANC's top leadership body, the National Executive Committee. He spoke softly, NEC members said yesterday, but always lucidly and with conviction, displaying in his later years the same qualities of gentle persuasion, the same instinct for compromise and consensus, which had provided the foundation of the ANC edifice during years of exile.

Mr Tambo's death at the age of 75 - he was nearly a year older than Mr Mandela - will not provoke anything like the outpouring of energy generated by Mr Hani's death. Partly because his death was entirely natural - though perhaps accelerated, ANC officials said, by the loss of Mr Hani - and partly because his ill- health meant he remained a remote figure for the majority of South Africans.

Those who worked under him in exile, however, have always been unanimous in their devotion to him. Where Mr Mandela inspires admiration, even awe, Mr Tambo inspired love.

Some criticism was heard after the Tambos moved into a pink- walled mansion in Sandhurst, one of Johannesburg's most expensive suburbs, but whatever rebukes there were have been levelled at Mr Tambo's formidable wife, Adelaide. It is a measure of the man that he himself rose above such mundanities. Though a devoted father, his concern centred more on the broader South African family, to which he devoted his life.

(Photograph omitted)

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears