Adelaide Tambo, Widow of ANC Hero, Dies

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa Adelaide Tambo, widow of African National Congress hero, Oliver Tambo, and a stalwart of the anti-apartheid struggle, died on Wednesday. She was 77. An ANC statement said she collapsed at her home in Johannesburg in the evening. No other details were given. “The ANC joins all South Africans in mourning the loss of a true heroine of our nation, a daughter of our soil who dedicated her life to the freedom of our people,” it said. Like her husband, Mrs Tambo, fondly known as Ma-Tambo or Mama Adelaide, was a lifelong political activist and was widely regarded as a mother figure to anti-apartheid figures in exile. In her later years she became an impassioned advocate of rights for elderly people and the disabled. She remained active in the ANC but watched in anguish as the South Africa of her dreams was blighted by violence and HIV/AIDS. “Life made me meek and sick,” she said in an impassioned speech last August to mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark anti-apartheid march by women. “Although my mind is strong, many may become abusive toward me because I cannot provide the American dream.” “I am 77 years old. The majority of women in this country are my children. “Why are you not fighting for me?” President Thabo Mbeki expressed his sadness at Mrs Tambo’s death and sent condolences to her family. “Her passing away amounts to a loss to the entire country and the international community,” he said in a statement. Born July 18, 1929 – she shared a birthday with Nelson Mandela – Adelaide Tambo became involved in politics when she was 10 years old. Her ailing grandfather, aged 82, was arrested in a police raid following a riot in which a police officer had been killed. He collapsed and while she waited for him to regain consciousness, she decided to devote her life to the fight against white racist rule. Five years later she started working for the ANC as a courier, while still studying. She joined the ANC Youth League and was almost immediately elected chairperson. She met her future husband at the launch of a new youth league branch and agreed to marry him in 1956. Three weeks before their wedding, Tambo was arrested and charged with 155 other ANC members, including Nelson Mandela, for high treason. The wedding went ahead four days after the trialists were released on bail. The trial lasted for more than three years, ending in the acquittal of all the accused. The Tambos fled from South Africa in 1960 upon the advice of other ANC activists. Oliver Tambo was ANC leader in exile while Nelson Mandela was in prison. He earned huge international respect, winning support around the world for the anti-apartheid movement. He died of a stroke in 1993, one year before the country’s first multiracial democratic elections. “Throughout the most difficult times of the struggle for democracy, Adelaide Tambo’s strength, compassion and determination served as inspiration to generations of freedom fighters,” the ANC said in its tribute. While in exile, Mrs Tambo helped the families of other exiles, whilst working as a nurse to support her own family. Mbeki, who was regarded as Tambo’s protÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚©gÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚©, was a frequent visitor to their London home. Mrs Tambo was a founder member of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement and the Pan-African Women’s Organization. She also worked with International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) to identify and financially assist some of the families whose children left South Africa after 1976, according to her official biography. She received South Africa’s top decoration – the Order of the Baobab in Gold – in 2002 for exceptional commitment to the struggles against apartheid and dedication to community service and nation-building. “A true mother and care-giver to the needy and destitute, Adelaide Tambo has never ceased to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of women and children,” a statement from the President’s office said at the time. Former South African President Nelson Mandela joined the nation yesterday in mourning the passing of Mrs Tambo, his longtime friend and fellow veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle. Mandela said he mourned the “passing away of a close personal friend, a comrade and one of the great heroines of our nation.” “She was a mother to the liberation movement in exile, and a nationally revered figure in our new nation. We pay tribute to a life dedicated to freedom and service,” he said in a statement released by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The foundation said Mandela was in Mozambique but would return to Johannesburg to convey his condolences to the Tambo family and offer support. As family and friends gathered at the Tambo home, tributes poured in. Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said Adelaide Tambo was a woman of great dignity and courage, the South African Press Association reported. “I myself have sought her wise counsel many times,” he said. “She always showed great concern for the poor and for the moral values of the nation.” SAPA also reported that British High Commissioner Paul Boateng said Adelaide Tambo had left a huge gap in the lives of many in South Africa, Africa and the United Kingdom. “Her place in history and in all our hearts is assured and her memory will live on forever,” he said. As tributes continued to pour in, SAPA reports, Professor Errol Tyobeka, vice-chancellor and principal of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), said the university had lost a legend and a compassionate woman. “I am sad, very sad today. Our university has lost its first chancellor, a woman of stature, vision and indomitable courage,” said Tyobeka. He said her legacy to TUT was her strong belief in the role education played in improving one’s life. “Her acceptance of the role of chancellor really started the process of unifying TUT into one good university.” Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, expressed his sadness and heartfelt condolences over the death of Adelaide Tambo. “She lived a life of supreme compassion, courage and generosity of spirit in the most difficult of circumstances,” Buthelezi said yesterday. He said Mama Tambo was a towering figure of the liberation of the country, and if the history of South Africa’s liberation is written up, “Mama Tambo’s name will be written in bold, gold letters”. Buthelezi said he was proud to have called Mama Tambo a friend. “The IFP extends its condolences to Mama Tambo’s children and to the African National Congress on their loss,” he said, according to a Sapa report. Tambo is survived by three children, Tembi, Dali and Tselane. There were no immediate details of funeral arrangements. She was present at a ceremony last October to rename the Johannesburg Airport the O.R. Tambo International Airport in honour of her late husband. – Nampa-AP-Sapa