Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma, at the occasion of the unveiling of the OR Tambo Statue

President Jacob Zuma

bust and renaming of the ATNS Auditorium, held at the OR Tambo International Airport

Mr Dali Tambo and the entire Tambo Family 


Treasurer-General of the ANC Dr Zweli Mkhize


The Minister of Transport and


Minister in the Presidency and all Ministers and Deputy Ministers present,


The Executive Mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mr Mzwandile Masina,


MECs, MPs and MPLs,


Isithwalandwe Baba Andrew Mlangeni 


Ladies and gentlemen,


I greet you all.


I am honoured today to be joining you on an occasion in honour of the life of Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo, an outstanding South African and selfless fighter for justice, freedom, human rights and equality, who sacrificed so much for his country. 

This occasion forms part of the O.R. Tambo centenary celebrations that are being held across the country under the theme “Life and Legacy of OR Tambo”.

This morning I commenced by unveiling a bust and officially renaming the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) auditorium and tower in honour of this gallant revolutionary of our life time. 

Born on 27 October 1917 in Mbizana, President Oliver Reginald Tambo, would have turned 100 years old this year, had he lived. 

This selfless patriot dedicated his adult life to the tireless pursuit of the liberation of our country and its people. 

He left a lasting legacy for all South Africans, and not only for his organisation, the ANC. 

In his honour, government has declared the year 2017, the Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo.

It is the year of unity in action by all South Africans as we move South Africa forward, together. 

President Tambo was among the founding members of the ANC Youth League in 1944, and became its first national Secretary.

Together with Comrades Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Ashby Mda, Anton Lembede, Dr William Nkomo, Dr C.M. Majombozi and others - they were instrumental in the transformation of the ANC.

They infused the organisation with new ideas and changed it to become a progressive and potent tool in the hands of our people in the struggle for liberation.

President Tambo bears the distinction of having been the longest serving President of the ANC.

When Chief Luthuli died, OR Tambo became acting President for a long period of time until he was formally elected to the position by the NEC at the time. 

He led the organisation during one of the most difficult and trying moments of the liberation struggle, most importantly at the time when the ANC had been banned and had gone underground. 

President Tambo became the glue that held the many facets of the ANC together during that difficult period. 

He became a capable pastor to all the strands of the ANC broad church. 

He was able to do this because of his character, amongst other, that of being a disciplined and highly principled leader. It is clear to me and all of us who had the rare privilege to be led by this giant, that he was a leader who had a calling to serve the people of South Africa. 

He knew that South Africa and its people did not owe him anything; hence he served his people with love and selflessness. 

President Nelson Mandela, in his eulogy remarked that, “Oliver lived not because he could breathe. He lived not because blood flowed through his veins. Oliver lived not because he did all the things that all of us as ordinary men and women do.

Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people”. 

Throughout all the critical decades from the 60s, 70s, 80s to our return home in 1990, President Tambo worked tirelessly in the pursuit of freedom. 

Ladies and Gentlemen 

Another key inheritance from President Tambo to the South African nation was his internationalism which enabled us to sharpen the international pillar of our struggle. 

The international campaign to release President Mandela and other political prisoners, the campaign for sanctions against apartheid South Africa and the creation of an understanding of South Africa under apartheid, were all skillfully executed under his leadership. 

His skilful diplomatic endeavours also led to the recognition of the ANC by the Organisation for African Unity and the United Nations.

The declaration of apartheid as a crime against humanity was due to his tireless leadership of the international pillar of our struggle. Assisted by African governments, President Tambo established ANC missions in Egypt, Ghana, Morocco and in London. 

From these small beginnings, under his stewardship, the ANC acquired missions in a total of 27 countries by 1990.


Through President OR, the anti-Apartheid Movement also flourished and became one of the greatest multi-class, multi-religious, international solidarity movements ever seen in history. 

We cultivated relations with many countries in the Socialist bloc, the Nordic bloc and the Non-Aligned Movement who became our strong partners in the struggle against apartheid colonialism. 

The 2.5 metre bronze statue being unveiled today depicts Oliver Reginald Tambo, as the revered international statesman, President of the ANC and Commander of a liberation army, descending the steps of an aircraft and greeting the waiting crowds of supporters. 

The installation of this statue at the International Arrivals Hall of this Airport is especially fitting, as it was to this Airport that O.R Tambo would return in 1990, after 30 years in exile, finally to be greeted by his own people. 

This Airport received approximately 21 million passengers this year. This serves to confirm the significance of this Airport as a leading contributor to not only travel and tourism efforts in our country, but to our local economy as a whole. 

Importantly, the OR Tambo International Airport boasts a very rich history. It is the biggest and busiest airport in Africa.

From its humble beginnings in 1952, the airport has undergone two name changes from Jan Smuts Airport to Johannesburg International in 1994. It was renamed O.R. Tambo International Airport on 27 October 2006 after President Tambo.

We are proud of this infrastructure. 

The transport hub boasts key elements required for a world-class airport business – location, accessibility and connectivity.

It is ideally situated in the heart of South Africa's commercial and industrial hub, with excellent road infrastructure, linking it to the national road network. 

O.R. Tambo International Airport services airlines from five continents and plays a vital role in serving the local, regional air transport needs of South African and international travellers. 

The airport offers various retail outlets for travellers' convenience. It also boasts top of the range hotels as well as a fully equipped gym within close proximity. 

It is therefore important that as we seek to have an inclusive economy and to radically transform the economy in order to reflect the demographics of our country, we reflect on what Tambo said about this subject. 

President Tambo said political freedom alone is incomplete without economic emancipation. 

He spoke clearly about this mission at a South African Communist Party anniversary meeting in London in 1981.

 He said: “The objective of our struggle in South Africa, as set out in the Freedom Charter, encompasses economic emancipation.

It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the country to the people as a whole”. 

Today as we unveil the statue of O.R Tambo, we need to ensure that black industrialists and black-owned enterprises get the opportunity to participate in the aviation economy and its value chain. 

This includes participating in aviation-related careers such as Pilots, Aeronautical Engineering, Aircraft Assemblers, Airport Planners, Aviation Safety Specialists and meteorologist. 

We will then be paying a fitting tribute to OR Tambo who wanted to see progress and development for the people of our country. 

Let me also, ladies and gentlemen, add that we strongly condemn the reported incidents of crime associated with the airport. Some local and international passengers have been attacked leaving the airport. 

We take this crime very seriously. Law enforcement agencies have been instructed to ensure that such attacks come to an end and that criminals are brought to book and indeed a team has been assembled from all agencies to work on this critical intervention. 

We must uphold the memory of OR Tambo by making this airport and every other part of our country safe. 

As we unveil this statue and honour OR together, we reiterate Madiba’s words that Oliver Tambo has not died, because the ideals for which he sacrificed his life can never die. 

He will continue to inspire all of us as we forge ahead with the mission of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. 

I thank you! 

Issued by the Presidency