He never approached us as President, but as a servant among servants.” These were the words of Lindiwe Mabuza as she reflected on the leadership legacy of Oliver Tambo, the longest-serving ANC President. Alongside Mac Maharaj and Luli Callinicos, the three struggle veterans engaged in a dialogue titled “Tambo and Mandela In Conversation”. On the night, Mac Maharaj offered the most critical recollection of these leaders, and also warned the audience against what he called the “syndrome of the great leader”. His emphasis here was that great leadership comes not from a celebration of individuals, but from a “collective” that also takes responsibility, both in its errors and successes. At a time when South Africa is experiencing a leadership crisis, Maharaj reminded us that the best way of avoiding prolonging this is to “stop consulting in the middle of doing things”. His call to action, or what Maharaj described as “action vested with vision”, echoed the style of leadership of both OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela, who believed not only in action, but also in diversity in action. Maharaj stated that, when looking at the tradition in leadership, it is impossible to not look at Tambo, who was resilient, Mandela, who was resourceful and Walter Sisulu, the strategist amongst the three leaders, because in leadership, they were inseparable. Mabuza offered another perspective of Tambo’s leadership – the most special quality being his ability to “self-sacrifice” which, coupled with his spirituality, made him a most “attentive, highly spiritual, ethical, and morally upright” leader of the people. Similarly, this is what Mabuza characterised as “servant among servants” – the leader who could lead not by placing himself above his people, but by being among them. This quality in Tambo’s leadership allowed him to work across different sectors of society in his, and the ANC’s, fight for the freedom of black people in South Africa. In the same manner, Callinicos, reflecting on the state of current leadership in the country, suggested that the leaders of today seem to be “located in a different moral universe”. Callinicos was cautioning here against a type of leadership that refuses to be accountable to the people, even in the evidence of its clear shortcomings, including having been found to have flouted the Constitution. Still, recalling the words of Tambo, Callinicos reminded those at the dialogue that: “Comrades, if you think the struggle is difficult, wait until you get into power.” Cumulatively, all three panellists gave a very diverse and profound portrait of OR Tambo and his leadership legacy. And, in a note that reminded us that the struggle for a free and just South Africa continues, Maharaj said that his “time is up” and that ours “is coming”. This, indeed, was the leadership of Tambo: continual action by all for freedom, regardless of class, race, and gender.
– By nelsonmandela.org